Everything you need to know about Gibraltar in five minutes

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Spain and UK in dispute over Gibraltar border controls
Spain and UK in dispute over Gbraltar border controlsi

What's all this I hear about Gibraltar?

It's a tiny rocky enclave, on the southern tip of Spain which has been in British hands for the past 300 years. Now Spain want it back.

Are we going to give it to them?

Not likely. The Gibraltan people have held two referendums on their sovereignty in the past 50 years. The last one in 2002 found that 98% of the population want to remain British.


So that's the end of that then?

I'm afraid not. Spain say that the wishes of the Gibraltan people are far less important than their own claims to territorial integrity. They've even got UN resolutions, which they say back their case.

Big deal. What are they going to do about it? Invade?

No of course not. But they do control the only land access to the rock, and they're intent on making it as difficult as possible to use it. New border checks have left Gibraltans waiting up to six hours in the summer heat. The Spanish government have also threatened to impose fees of around £40 to cross the border.

Disgraceful! Send in the warships!

We already have. HMS Illustrious set sail for Gibraltar yesterday along with two navy frigates. The visit, which is described as routine, is designed to "focus the minds" of the Spanish. The UK government is also threatening to take Spain to court. The first time this has happened in the history of the European Union.

Blimey. So why's all this kicking off now?

The dispute has been going on for centuries, but came to a head last month when Gibraltar dropped concrete blocks into the waters off the rock, supposedly to create an artificial reef. Spain says that this risks damaging the nets of Spanish fisherman.

So this is a major international dispute over holey fishing nets? Seriously?

Well yes and no. International fishing rights are important but many believe that the row is really about domestic politics. The Spanish government are embroiled in a major corruption scandal, and the economy remains a virtual basket case. Appealing to Spanish nationalism over Gibraltar can't do them any harm.

And I suppose it doesn't hurt the British government either?

That's right. The Falklands War is credited with turning around the fortunes of Margaret Thatcher in the 80s. Cameron hopes a show of strength over Gibraltar could have a similar affect today.

But hang on. Doesn't Spain have its own colonies in the region?

They do indeed. Spain occupies two fenced off urban enclaves on the Moroccan coast, which they refuse to return, despite repeated claims from Morocco.

What a bunch of hypocrites. How do they justify that?

Spain claims that while Gibraltar is an offshore colony, Ceuta and Mellila are simply "integral parts of Spain," despite being on an entirely different continent. Do you see the difference?

No, not really.

No, me neither.

Right that's it. I'm packing up and sailing off to defend Gibraltar.

I wouldn't trouble yourself. The row has been going on for the last three centuries, without a single shot being fired. No doubt it will go on peacefully for another three centuries as well.

I'll just calm down then.

That's probably wise.

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