Britons insist that Gibraltar must stay British – but don't back sending in the Navy
A 15 minute phone call between Prime Minister David Cameron and his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, which No 10 initially claimed had led to concessions by Spain, appears to have failed to resolve a dispute over Gibraltar border checks. Increased vehicle checks at the border between Spain and Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, last week led to the Rock’s chief minister calling on Mr Cameron to send Royal Navy Warships there to “[assert] British sovereignty in a peaceful way”. Mr Cameron has so far declined to do so.
A new YouGov survey confirms that people in Britain agree it isn’t time to send in the Navy, but they also firmly reject the calls made by some from inside and outside Spain to renegotiate Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
Only 9% of British public think Mr Cameron should send a Royal Navy ship to “assert Britain’s ownership of Gibraltar”, about half as many as want the UK to reopen negotiations over “the long term future of Gibraltar and whether it should remain British, become Spanish or become a joint territory.” Instead, a majority of Britons would prefer the dispute were resolved through “diplomatic discussions” like the one Mr Cameron engaged in today.
These sentiments are also reflected in a firm–if not unanimous—belief among British adults that Gibraltar should remain a self-governing British territory. This option is preferred by 66% per cent of the public, compared to only 5% who want it to be a self-governing Spanish territory, another 5% who want it to be governed by Spain and 9% who want Gibraltar to be a self-governing joint territory of Spain and Britain.
Gibraltar has been under British sovereignty since the Treaty of Utrecht was signed exactly 300 years ago. As recently as 2002, Gibraltar held a referendum on its own status and soundly rejected changing from a British Overseas Territory.
YouGov’s survey also finds that most people in Britain are at least somewhat familiar with Gibraltar’s territorial status: when presented with several different arrangements, 77% of Britons correctly identify Gibraltar as a British territory that has its own government. However, there is a 37 point gap in understanding of Gibraltar’s status between the youngest adults in Britain (aged 18-24), 55% of whom correctly identify it, and the oldest adults (aged 60 and up), 92% of whom get it right. Most (38%) of the remainder of Britons aged 18-24 say they 'don't know' what Gibraltar's status is.
The increased border checks that vaulted Anglo-Spanish relations into British headlines came after Gibraltarian authorities dumped 70 concrete blocks off of Gibraltar’s coast. Gibraltarian authorities said the blocks would create a flourishing artificial reef, but Spain claimed the move lacked the “necessary authorisation” and would make it hard for Spanish boats to fish in the area because they usually fish with nets, which would get caught on the concrete blocks.
Image from Getty.