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The British presence in the Mediterranean post-Brexit

Matthew Graves, Aix-Marseille Uni, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France

When the then UK Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon attended the tercentenary celebrations of British rule over Gibraltar in the summer of 2004, the Spanish Foreign Secretary objected to London’s insensitivity towards Madrid’s sovereign claim in blunt terms: “It turns out to be very strange that in this 21st century, the military occupation of part of an EU member-state’s territory is commemorated by another member-state.”[i] Although a Downing Street spokesman downplayed the incident, affirming that Britain and Spain enjoyed “a good relationship (…) They are an EU and NATO partner”[ii], the commemorations came in the wake of the 2002 referendum on the Rock which saw nearly 99% of Gibraltarians reject shared British-Spanish sovereignty. Fourteen years later, Gibraltar voted once again near unanimously (96%) in favour of Remain in the EU referendum of 2016, but this time the self-governing British Overseas Territory, one of two in the Mediterranean alongside the sovereign bases of Cyprus to share land borders with EU member states, found itself at odds with the majority of UK voters who voted by a slender 4% margin in favour of Leave, albeit with the notable exceptions of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Today as the transition period for the United Kingdom and European Union to reach an agreement on their future trade and security relationship is fast approaching, Gibraltar epitomises the challenges facing British diplomacy in the Mediterranean now that it can no longer appeal to EU partnership with the riparian countries of southern Europe to leaven its strategic presence. 

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