Two of the top tips in Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, of which I wrote last week even though he allegedly didn’t write it himself, are ‘Think Big’ and ‘Maximise the Options’, also expressed as ‘I keep a lot of balls in the air’. How should Theresa May apply that advice in response to Spain’s opportunistic bid to raise the issue of sovereignty over Gibraltar as a potential Brexit hurdle?
She could, of course, offer a repeat of the 2002 referendum in which Gibraltarians voted 99 per cent ‘No’ when asked whether Britain and Spain should share the Rock’s sovereignty. But the ‘balls in the air’ gambit I have in mind for her is bolder than that. Why not offer a referendum on the condition that — if sovereignty is to be regarded as negotiable, regardless of historic borders and treaties — the vote is extended to the 260,000 citizens of the neighbouring Spanish district of Campo de Gibraltar (including the towns of Algeciras and La Linea) as well as the 20,000 voters of Gibraltar itself?
A rather provocative 2015 ‘Economic Impact Study’ by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce points out that while employment in the Campo area itself fell by 20 per cent between 2007 and 2015, around 10,000 ‘frontier workers’ continued to cross into Gibraltar every day — and the overall contribution of Gibraltar to the output of the Campo is worth around half a billion pounds a year. It follows that any impediment to cross-border relations as a result of a hard Brexit would hurt Spanish neighbours who are already struggling to make a living — and who if sufficiently disenchanted with their current rulers in far-away Madrid, might well decide to throw in their lot with the low-tax, high-growth, free-trading British territory next door.
So never mind sending a gunboat, Prime Minister — just launch a campaign for Greater Gibraltar, and we’ll rally Spectator support. That should stop Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis in his tracks.