As Brexit day looms, the question of how to handle Britain's border with Ireland has dominated the debate over the withdrawal agreement. But now, a new EU law has cast a light on the future of another tricky frontier, that between Spain and the British territory of Gibraltar.
On Thursday, the European Parliament approved a text permitting Britons visa-free visits to the EU even in the event of a "no deal" Brexit. This wasn't controversial, but an eight-word phrase nestled in a footnote to the text has provoked anger in the British port city at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
"Gibraltar is a colony of the British Crown," it reads, before noting the "controversy" between Madrid and London over Gibraltar's sovereignty.
The reference upset London and held up the bill, already approved by the EU executive, which guarantees that Britons will be able to visit the European Union for up to 90 days without visas even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, as long as Britain reciprocates. A Spanish government spokesman said it was "the first time that the European Parliament and the... member states have recognized that Gibraltar is a colony" and "a great step forward for the position and claims made by Spain."
Gibraltar is indeed listed by the United Nations as "non-self-governing territory," one of 17 around the world "that remain to be decolonized." But Britain and Gibraltar's government reject the term "colony." Officials dubbed it part of the "United Kingdom family" during the Brexit debate. Gibraltar, a tiny piece of land on the southern tip of Spain and under British control for 300 years, is a major bone of contention between London and Madrid. A naval dispute was the latest example of tension over the strategic port as Brexit approaches. The rocky, 6.7-square-kilometer enclave at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula has been a British territory since 1713. Gibraltar is due to leave the EU along with the U.K. in March, although 96 percent of its population voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the bloc.