Sturgeon's bid to keep Scotland in EU could find unexpected ally in Gibraltar

Scottish First Minister starts contacts in Brussels with one eye on second referendum on independence · Gibraltarian government suggests deal by which only one part of the UK would leave the EU

Sturgeon talks to the media in Brussels.
Sturgeon talks to the media in Brussels. Author: Office of the Scottish First Minister
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said she got a "sympathetic" hearing at the European Parliament, where she disclosed her government's intentions to keep Scotland in the EU despite the result of last week's referendum on UK EU membership. Despite those claims, Spain and, to a lesser extent, France voiced opposition to any differential treatment for Scotland. Still, Sturgeon could be finding one unexpected ally on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

Gibraltar, even in greater numbers than Scotland, voted to remain in the EU with an impressive support of 96%. Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo yesterday told the Gibraltarian Parliament that "very positive" discussions on the issue are being held with Sturgeon.

Picardo explained that communication between the technical teams that Scotland and Gibraltar have set up after the referendum will remain open, in order to explore a possible solution to the crisis triggered by the Brexit victory.

Greenland as a model

Picardo further said that the Gibraltarian government is exploring an argument based on Greenland's withdrawal from the EEC. In 1985, the island left the Economic Community despite the fact that mainland Denmark remained in. The deal did not require the Danish realm to break up.

Accordind to Picardo, a similar agreement could now be reached by which, say, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the city of London and Gibraltar would remain in the EU, while the rest of England and Wales would leave. The deal, Picardo understands, would mean keeping the UK as one single state.

The difficulty of such an agreement, however, is evident. If the rest of England and Wales do not agree to free movement of people with the EU, then border controls should be introduced not only at the Scotland-England border, but also in the outskirts of London itself.

On the other hand, Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party (SNP) share one part of Gibraltar's goal -to remain in the EU- but not the other. Gibraltar wants UK's unity to be preserved, while Scotland's pro-independence movement aims at organizing a second referendum on independence to break away from the UK.

Picardo made it clear that Gibraltar is in no way proposing a change on its sovereignty. The Rock, he said, wishes to remain 100% British whatever happens.

That comes as a warning to the Spanish government. Immediately after last week's referendum, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo was quick to propose a joint British-Spanish sovereignty deal over Gibraltar.

Madrid is showing a lot of interest in Brexit, and not only because of Gibraltar. Spanish president Mariano Rajoy yesterday voiced the toughest stance of all EU member states as regards Sturgeon's visit to Brussels: "If UK leaves, then Scotland leaves too," he said.

Sturgeon replied she was not surprised by Rajoy's stance. Only a few hours earlier, the Spanish president had heard his Catalan counterpart Carles Puigdemont tell the Catalan Parliament: "We should be leaving [Spain] as soon as possible."