Tag: National Politics

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Gibraltar and Brexit

  • January 2020
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Gibraltar and Brexit

Gibraltar, English, Rock, Coast, Mediterranean

Source: Pixabay

Despite voting 96% to Remain, Gibraltar now faces Brexit: nothing short of a fundamental challenge to what it means to be Gibraltarian, British, and European.

As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, its people have been swept along for the ride whether they voted for it or not. The CFEP has extensively covered the Scottish situation, but the Gibraltarian situation remains under-discussed.

Gibraltar’s story is as, if not more, complex than Scotland’s. A disputed territory between Spain and the UK, its culture, society, politics and economics all stem from its geopolitical situation. As such, it voted 96% to Remain in the European Union. Despite that decisive result, it now faces Brexit: nothing short of a fundamental challenge to what it means to be Gibraltarian, British, and European.

The BBC has a brief explainer of Spain and the UK’s claims. In short, it revolves around a 1713 treaty ceding Gibraltar from Spain to the UK. Anglo-Dutch forces captured its fortress in 1704, and it was then ceded to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht. Spain maintains that the treaty limits British sovereignty to particular areas of Gibraltar. It does not recognise the airport and the territorial waters as UK sovereign territory. The UK maintains that the whole of Gibraltar was ceded to it forever, with no exceptions.


In more modern times, the two states have resorted to different doctrines of international law. The UK relies on the idea of self-determination: the people of Gibraltar have chosen to remain linked to the UK and have rejected shared sovereignty with Spain, and their will should be observed. For Spain, non-interference with the fixed borders of another state (the territorial integrity principle) matters far more than self-determination, particularly for a community which it decries as the result of colonialism.

Gibraltar has been listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory with the UN since 1946. This is another point of contention between the UK and Spain. In the UN decolonisation process, the UK maintains that Gibraltar is for all extents and purposes decolonised, having responsibility for everything except foreign affairs, defence and internal security. Spain pushes for a solution based on territorial integrity instead of self-determination, citing previous UN resolutions which supported that position. This leaves Gibraltar in limbo. It has a democratically elected government that has the capacity to make its own policy on the vast majority of topics. However, it exists in a liminal space: colonised-on-paper-but-not-in-reality. Under the Treaty of Utrecht, if the UK ever relinquishes Gibraltar, it reverts back to Spain. Even if Gibraltar wanted to be independent – which it does not – it could not be.

Gibraltarian identity is fundamentally shaped by the dispute. During the Francoist period, the border was closed, separating families and leaving a traumatic mark on Gibraltar’s collective memory. One woman recently told Spain’s El Periódico: “My grandmother was very sick in La Línea [the Spanish city bordering Gibraltar] and to go to see her, my mother had to get a ferry to Morocco and from there another to Algeciras. It took over a day and by the time she arrived my grandmother had already died. She never forgave them.” This history has coloured perceptions of Spain to the point that some view its persistence in claiming Gibraltar as borderline totalitarian.


As detailed in a House of Lords report on Brexit and Gibraltar, many Gibraltarians thank Spanish accession to the European Economic Community for reopening the border. Building on that achievement, the Brussels Process began in 1984. It sought to set up UK-Spain discussions, reduce restrictions on moving goods and people over the land border (Gibraltar is not in the Customs Union or Schengen) and provide reciprocal rights for Spanish people in Gibraltar and Gibraltarians in Spain. It failed to directly include Gibraltarians and collapsed in 2002 when they voted against shared sovereignty.

In 2004, the UK, Spain and Gibraltar set up a Forum for Dialogue. This had more success, making deals on pension payments to retirees who had worked in Gibraltar, easing border crossing, Gibraltar dialling codes, cross-border economic cooperation, allowing Gibraltar’s Airport to take part in EU aviation measures, and permitting civilian aircraft to use Spanish airspace.

Finally, in 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon discussions resulted in text setting out Gibraltar’s unique status as a European territory with a Member State responsible for its external relations. Trilateral talks collapsed in 2011 when the hard-line Partido Popular governed Spain once more. During intense border disruption in 2012-13, the UK was able to appeal to the European Commission on Gibraltar’s behalf. It did not find Spain in breach of EU rules but wrote to both Member States with recommendations and kept up ‘soft’ pressure through subsequent inspection visits. More recently, the UK received a preview of what may be to come. One of its MEPs was forced out of his rapporteur position, for resisting Spanish attempts to footnote Gibraltar as a colony.


Post-Brexit, Gibraltar faces economic losses as well as political. Returning to the House of Lords report, Gibraltar is a diverse service-based economy. Financial services and online gaming provide 40% of its GDP and 25% of total jobs. The right to offer financial services in other European Economic Area countries (Passporting Rights) is vital to the industry and will need to be negotiated as part of the future free trade agreement. Ending the transition period without such an agreement could have a serious impact on Gibraltarian businesses. What’s more, almost 33% of finance jobs are held by frontier workers.

It isn’t just Gibraltar that would suffer from increased border controls. Gibraltar is the second largest employer in the Campo de Gibraltar region, the first being the regional government of Andalucía. Andalucía’s government has calculated that Brexit could cost it between 500 and 1200 million Euros, and proposed that it be granted special access to the European Solidarity Fund to cushion the blow.

What else can be done for Gibraltar? Chief Minister Fabian Picardo recently floated the idea of negotiating passport-free travel with the EU post-Brexit. The UK government rapidly reiterated that it would make the final decision. This scenario would be no threat to the Schengen zone: there are border checks between the UK and Gibraltar, and so the idea is worthy of serious consideration. In the past, more headway has been made while the Partido Socialista Obrero Español is in power in Spain, and it has recently formed a coalition with the left-wing populist party Podemos. This party has expressed little interest in the territorial dispute over Gibraltar, focusing on unemployment in the surrounding area and accusing it of being a tax haven.

It remains to be seen what will happen during the transition period, in previously uncharted political territory for both Spain and Gibraltar. The last word should go to Gibraltarian MP, Marlene Hassan Nahon, who highlighted a key problem with the ideas underlying Brexit.

She expressed the fear that “the interests of a much larger British population will displace those of Gibraltarians in the UK government’s dealings in exiting the European Union.” In light of the UK government’s tendency to privilege the desires of Leave voters over those of Remain voters, she may, unfortunately, be correct.

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Scotland’s Story: here’s what you missed at our panel discussion

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

The CFEP held a well-attended panel discussion on the Wednesday 6th November at the Press Club Brussels on the topic of Scotland and independence: out of the frying pan and into the fire? If you weren’t able to attend, here’s a brief summary of what you missed.

Sheila Ritchie MEP began the event with a passionate defence of Scotland remaining in the UK. She cited her party’s preamble, stating that “Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries.” The Liberal Democrats oppose another independence referendum and support a referendum on Brexit. This is often challenged for inconsistency, but for Mrs Ritchie, it is about ending existing chaos and preventing additional chaos. She explained that the difficulties of undoing a 46-year old partnership between the UK and the EU would only be amplified in undoing a 416-year-old partnership between Scotland and England. For people new to Scottish politics, Mrs Ritchie provided an insight into what it was like to campaign against independence in 2014. She described it as the worst experience of her political life and the beginning of post-truth politics. Economics does matter, and she noted that Scotland’s deficit is above the 3% target required for EU members under the Stability and Growth Pact. People, however, matter the most: Mrs Ritchie highlighted that a lot of Scots are married to people from other parts of the UK, and raised concerns about building divides between those communities. Her party wants a “reformed, federal, and fair union”. She conceded there would be little chance of this under a Boris Johnson government, but noted that this was another reason why they were fighting to stop him in the December 12 General Election.


Christian Allard MEP naturally disagreed with Sheila, but the two MEPs had a good-natured debate. For Mr Allard, his identity as a French Scot demonstrates the openness of the independence movement for people from everywhere. It was important to him that people’s ideas were not castigated, but that people were given respect and space to talk about their ideas. He believes most people are not hardcore supporters of either side and they make their decisions on polling, noting that he knew people who voted for their chosen side and would have been content with the result either way. Indeed, he sought to oppose the notion of two camps as simplistic: there were people in Scotland who voted Yes and Remain, Yes and Leave, No and Leave, and No and Remain. Overall, what matters for Mr Allard is the future. He explained that the future that people want is what really counts, and they should have the democratic and legal chance to vote on it. He acknowledged it would have been easier to become independent in 2014 because back then both Scotland and the UK were fully aligned to and participating in the EU. That is what united the two MEPs: they differ on independence but are fighting to keep the whole UK in the EU.

Schams El Ghoneimi spoke next, mentioning his time at the European Parliament. Part of his role involved assessing what an independent Scotland’s foreign policy would look like. Would it be like Denmark? Would it have opposed the Iraq War, if that happened today? Would it agree to host migrants from Italy and Greece, and then follow through on those commitments like many other states did not? His aim during his interventions on our panel was to look at the nuances of the issue: there were obstacles, but also things that had changed since 2014. For example, Josep Borrell stated that Spain would not block Scotland from joining the EU.

Mr El Ghoneimi added that this is a totally unprecedented situation, and so the EU would likely find a way over the political hurdles. The economic ones may be more complex to deal with. He noted, however, that there are real economic hurdles and that the Scottish independence campaign has work to do to win over those who voted No in 2014. He added that the EU would enjoy a strong message that joining is still desirable – and another net contributor to the budget. Scotland has an inclusive vision of what it means to be Scottish, but its pro-Europeanness is not perfect. Neither Lib Dem or SNP MEPs supported harmonising corporation tax rates or transnational lists. Opposition to the Euro persists, due to Scottish integration in the UK currency union. The most important consideration for Mr El Ghoneimi is where the most pro-European dynamic lies: it would be unlikely for the UK to remain in the EU, but that would be good for the world. If it did not, Scotland could be tempted away in favour of the EU.


Finally, Larissa Brunner rounded off the panel with the EU’s perspective on an independent Scotland. She agreed that Scottish membership would give the EU a PR boost. Furthermore, Scottish participation in the Common Fisheries Policy really matters for the other Member States. The only way to guarantee that it will continue to take part is remaining in the EU. Spain, particularly, does a lot of fishing in Scottish waters. She also agreed it would not veto Scottish independence: it sees the Catalan and Scottish cases as distinct based on legality and cooperation with the central government. It is also politically costly to veto, and Member States are unlikely to expend political capital to do so.

She described Scotland’s potential EU role as being part of the group of small Northern European liberal Member States that do not have the Euro. Such states used to hide behind the UK so they would not have to voice their own concerns but will need to speak up for themselves after Brexit. There is the danger of being marginalised by the Franco-German concentration of power, but these countries will all still have a vote and a Commissioner. She disagreed with commentators who suggest there is a ‘queue’ for membership but noted that Scotland will still have to go through the steps (albeit that this will be a short process.) Ms Brunner suggested EFTA could be a good holding place for it: Scotland being ‘small and humble’ enough to accept being a rule-taker and paying into the EU budget.

Audience questions were varied, discussing everything from the state of the Scottish border after independence to the nature of democracy as we know it. At the CFEP, we aim to facilitate discussion about the future of Europe and help people in the Brussels bubble learn more about the stories they see in the news. Our audience asked some insightful questions about the details of devolution in Scotland and federalism, and our panellists used some terms you might not have come across before.

Scotland has a system of devolved and reserved powers. This gets complex. The Scottish Parliament has an infographic summarising which issues are decided there and which are retained at Westminster. How does this relate to the EU, you might be asking? As Mr El Ghoneimi mentioned, Scottish Government representatives participate in EU meetings in their areas of expertise. As set out in this guide for Scottish Government officials, it is almost assumed that they would want to attend Council Working Parties on environmental, agricultural and fisheries issues. Mrs Ritchie sought to explain Henry VIII powers: the issue with Brexit is that the EU Withdrawal Act allows the UK Government to use these powers to copy EU law into UK law without having to consult Parliament. One question our audience members asked relates to the internal debate about these competencies – once they are regained from the EU, there is a controversy about when they will be devolved to the Scottish government.


Finally, we ended our event by imagining the future. If Scotland became independent, in its first Council Presidency, our panel generally agreed it can and should prioritise leading on climate change. Mr Allard added that he wanted to refocus Scotland and Europe on wellbeing, plugging Nicola Sturgeon’s TED Talk on the topic, and Mrs Ritchie wanted Scotland to take advantage of the EU’s tools to assist its smaller, more remote regions.


We hope you enjoyed our event, and that you learned something about Scotland and its potential futures. Watch this space for our next discussion event in December!

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The CFEP Hosts an Event to Discuss the Questions Surrounding Scottish Independence

  • October 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Source: Pixabay


We have decided to organise a panel debate on one of the hot topics being discussed in Brussels in these pre-Brexit days, as a follow-up to our previous analysis on Scotland and the questions surrounding its future. We have managed to invite four distinguished panellists, Sheila Ritchie MEP (Liberal Democrats), Christian Allard MEP (Scottish National Party, TBC), Schams El Ghoneimi, former Brexit advisor at the European Parliament, and Larissa Brunner, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre. We’ll put some tough questions to the politicians and independent experts and give you the chance to ask some of your own too. The event will be held on Wednesday, November 6th, starting at 17:30 at the Press Club in Brussels (Rue Froissart 95, 1040 Brussels).

The Brexit decision has made life more complicated for both sides of the Scottish independence debate. Just as Brexit raises questions about ideas and values as well as about logistical and practical issues of the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Scottish independence discussion raises similar questions about what role a 21st-century Scottish state would play and how it would be structured.

According to the most recently published poll on the issue, the Scottish public is split on whether they want independence or not. In response to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” 46% said Yes and 47% said No, with the remaining 7% ‘Don’t Know’. Looking at only those likely to vote and removing undecideds yielded a 50/50 deadlock. That same group, when asked how they would vote in the event of a No Deal Brexit, split 54/46 in favour of independence. Brexit has, then, had an impact on independence-related opinion, but the size of that impact remains to be seen.

What’s more, the question used above is the same as the one used in the 2014 referendum: Should Scotland be an independent country? The Electoral Commission tests referendum questions on the grounds of clarity, understandability, and neutrality. It approved a Yes/No response for the Scottish independence referendum in its assessment. However, in its assessment of the Brexit referendum question, it moved away from Yes/No questions because the members of the public it consulted felt that Remain/Leave was simpler and more neutral. A second Scottish independence referendum may have a different question, which could also lead to a different campaigning dynamic. Last time, the two campaigns centred their branding around Yes and No.

For the No campaign, there’s a certain irony about potentially being rebranded as the Remain campaign. A key issue in the campaign will naturally be Scotland’s EU Remain vote. 2014 No campaigners are going to face several questions arising from the Brexit decision:

  • Is it realistic to claim that Scotland is ‘stronger together’ with the UK when Brexit is predicted to seriously damage the Scottish and British economies?
  • For people who believe in a Scottish national interest which differs from that of the wider UK, Brexit is clear evidence of Westminster’s inability or unwillingness to uphold that interest. How can you convince them that remaining in the UK would be good for Scotland?
  • The ‘Project Fear’ concept was initially coined in 2014 in response to the No campaign’s focus on potential independence-related problems. Is it still feasible to convince Scots independence is too risky? Alternatively, is it possible to construct a positive narrative for a UK led by a drastically unpopular Prime Minister who shows little care or attention to Scottish interests?



However, the Yes campaign – or, the Leave the UK campaign – will also face questions, despite the potential to benefit from the Brexit fallout. Although their case that Scotland is politically different and its views overlooked has been given a useful case study, they faced difficulties in convincing voters on the practicalities of independence. Those practicalities face additional Brexit related complications.

  • Under the Stability and Growth Pact, EU member states have to keep to a budget deficit of 3% of GDP and a national debt of 60% GDP. According to Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures, Scotland’s deficit (including North Sea oil revenue) was 7%. What would you say to a voter who wants to know how an independent Scotland would meet those criteria?
  • The European Union is taking Brexit as an opportunity to move forward on integration, without the UK’s opt-outs. How would an independent Scotland handle the obligation to join the Euro and Schengen?
  • Scotland wants to be in the EU, that much is clear, but what can it bring to the EU? In its first Council Presidency, what would its priorities be? Potential fellow Member States would want to know its positions on the big issues of the day: migration, security and defence, Eurozone budgeting, etc…


All this assumes a second independence referendum would be forthcoming. The process of holding a referendum is not straightforward. A Section 30 order allows the UK Government to temporarily or permanently give law-making powers to the Scottish Parliament in particular issues. In 2012, the UK and Scottish governments agreed a Section 30 order allowing the Scottish Parliament to hold a single-question referendum before the end of 2014. The powers then expired, requiring the Scottish Government to ask for another order if it wishes to repeat the referendum. The Scottish Parliament authorised such a request in March 2017. Such a request has not yet been made, but the First Minister has signalled she will do so ‘in a matter of weeks’. For its part, the (current) Prime Minister has signalled that he will reject such a request. The Scottish independence movement has learned from the failings of the Catalan independence movement, and both Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie (the pro-independence Scottish Green co-leader) have ruled out any unilateral actions in favour of pressing for a legal, democratically valid referendum.

This debate is likely to run on and on, and at the Centre for European Progression we hope we can bring some clarity to the issues surrounding the future of Scotland.


See you at the Press Club on Wednesday evening.

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Scotland and independence: out of the frying pan and into the fire?

  • August 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Scotland and independence: out of the frying pan and into the fire?


Independence is not a panacea, and its supporters must tread carefully to avoid replicating the mistakes of Brexit


Source: Pixabay


Last week, a Lord Ashcroft poll showed that Scottish voters would back independence from the rest of the United Kingdom by 52% to 48%: strangely enough, the exact same split as in the 2016 EU referendum. The two situations have more in common than most people think. If Scotland did leave the UK in favour of the EU, it would also be a bitterly divided nation.

Conventional wisdom sees independence as a Brexit emergency escape, but it is important to look back at 2014’s Scottish referendum. In many ways, this was a warning about what was to come. Nigel Farage and the Brexit campaign did not invent the populist ‘Project Fear’ slogan. It was originally an in-joke by pro-UK campaigner Rob Shorthouse in response to the pro-independence campaign’s tactic of writing criticisms off as scaremongering. The phrase was later taken up by ex-First Minister Alex Salmond to assist him in deflecting tricky questions for the rest of the campaign.

Many Scots found the debate to be divisive, and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. 39% of Scots – a sizeable minority – agreed that the independence vote had ’caused harmful and lasting divisions in Scottish society’. It was also a precursor to today’s fake news problems: the official Yes campaign had to intervene after pro-independence conspiracy theorists proclaimed the referendum was rigged on the basis of online videos. A new referendum on essentially the same issue, then, would reopen those old wounds on top of the pre-existing Brexit related divisions. The same Ashcroft poll mentioned above found that support for a second independence referendum runs at 47% in favour, and 45% against. This reflects a divided Scotland, hardly amounting to a mass national clamour to leave the UK.

Any debate would risk falling into the old trap of ‘heart versus head’ rhetoric, where Yes campaigners are ambitious freedom-fighters and No campaigners are cautious calculators. Having seen the Brexit debate, everyone in Europe now knows where the former can lead. Rather than pushing for a referendum on a supposed groundswell of righteous anger, Scotland should stop to think about what kind of nation it would be.  The Growth Commission has attempted to seek a way forward, in order to deal with some of the weaknesses of the previous Yes campaign. It noticeably floundered on currency and on its economic projections’ over-reliance on oil and gas, both of which the Growth Commission has tried to rectify.

Whether it successfully does so is a different matter. Scots, although generally pro-EU, are not willing to rush headlong into a more federalist relationship with their European partners. It is hard to find Scotland-specific polling on European issues, but when asked in April 2019 whether they wished to keep using the pound, have a new Scottish currency instead, or join the Euro instead, only 7% of Scots chose the Euro. An independent Scotland could gamble on the Commission’s unwillingness to enforce a Scottish commitment to moving towards the Euro and would likely get a Schengen opt-out to remain in the Common Travel area. However, it would not inherit the British rebate or opt-in status on Justice and Home Affairs.

Not all Scots are as pro-EU as would be expected: indeed, Scottish fishermen demand that the UK ‘take back control’ of its fishing waters and a study found that 93% of Scottish fishermen intended to vote Leave. Although a small community, fishing is a culturally important traditional industry in particular areas of Scotland and its representatives actively lobby for their interests in Scotland, the UK and EU. The SNP would rapidly find that, if it were the governing party of an independent state, it could not please all of the people all of the time. The case of Moray, a coastal council area in North East Scotland, served as a cautionary tale to Bute House: not only did it narrowly vote Remain (by 122 votes), it ended the 16-year tenure of its SNP MP in favour of a Scottish Conservative.

Brexit, as ever, also complicates matters. While trying to unpick a 300-year-old Union,  which could easily become an acrimonious process considering Scotland once also threatened not to pay its divorce bill, it would simultaneously face negotiations with the European Union. The previous dispute about whether Scotland would become a third country and have to accede through the standard procedure no longer matters. Original predictions that Scotland could conclude its accession within 18 months were ambitious, and it now may take almost 10 years to reach that point depending on which disputes arise.

In combination with the Growth Commission plans to draw down the deficit over ten years, there is no foreseeable situation where Scotland does not face pressure on public services. Keeping to the Commission’s proposal that total public spending should increase by less than 1% a year for the first decade of independence would result in a decrease of around 4% of GDP in spending on public services and benefits over that decade, according to the IFS. Scottish local government is already concerned about its ability to provide essential services. The Scottish Government has cut their budgets by 7.5% since 2013: over twice as large a cut as the 2.8% reduction in the Scottish budget (made up of UK Treasury grant funds and devolved taxation/borrowing).

Overall, for Scotland, although it may seem tempting, rushing out of the UK exit door would not be the quick fix it has been portrayed as. Anti-Brexit sentiment will only get the nation so far, and it lacks a full European strategy going beyond Brexit. EU Member States would welcome it in, but cautiously – they do not want another version of the UK demanding optouts and blocking progress. The Scottish Government would do well to think about what they can do for Europe (and what it would do in the rotating Council Presidency), rather than thinking of what Europe can do to get them closer to independence.


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