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Monday, May 20, 2024

Losing control

The Independent reports that MPs have been warned that the Brexiteer promise of stronger sovereignty has failed and is instead leading to a loss of control of British territories.

They say the claim has come about because the governments of Gibraltar and the UK are close to agreeing a treaty that some fear will see EU Frontier border guards decide who can enter the British overseas territory – and will give them the power to turn away British citizens:

Gibraltar has been a British territory since it was handed to the UK in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, part of a series of agreements that ended the war of the Spanish succession. Spain, though, has long disputed the land on which the RAF Gibraltar air force station is situated, claiming it was part of an illegal landgrab by the British in the 19th century. Spain has been pushing to regain control of the territory for decades.

But there are wider concerns about this treaty with the EU, because of implications of a dilution of British sovereignty in areas such as Northern Ireland and even potentially the UK bases in Cyprus, where pressure is mounting over land that is British sovereign territory.

It is tempting to ask what it is that the Brexiteers expected. They may want to cut the UK off from the rest of the world in pursuit of an illusory soverignty, but as legal expert Catherine Barnard, a professor in European and employment law and deputy director of the think tank UK in a Changing Europe, poimts out, the whole concept is out-of=-date:

During the 2016 referendum, 96 per cent of Gibraltar’s citizens voted in favour of Remain, and last year Mr Picardo won re-election on a mandate to complete his treaty negotiations.

Prof Barnard warned that the row is based on a Brexiteer view of sovereignty that is outdated and rooted in the days of empire.

She said: “Essentially, the Brexiteers, during the referendum and after, were pushing a view of sovereignty that has not been true since the 19th century. Sovereignty is now much more transactional, and as soon as you sign any agreement, you dilute your sovereignty. That is what is going on with Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Sovereignty is no longer absolute.”

Prof Barnard said that in the modern world, sovereignty is a matter of give and take: “You give up part of it to gain something more for your country. That’s what happens with treaties and any sort of international agreement. It is like if I sell my car to you, I no longer have the car, but do have the money you gave me for it.

“We see this in the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU: we can change our environmental regulations, but this would mean we have tariffs imposed on us.”

She added that the issue of “competing sovereignties” could be another potential point of contention between the UK and Gibraltar.

Things really are starting to get interesting now.
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