The Gibraltar, Ceuta, Melilla triangle:
Why Ceuta and Melilla might become
Moroccan, but Gibraltar will never be Spanish

By David Eade
I had a sense of déjà vu when I read an interview with Angel Manuel Ballesteros in which he put forward the view that if Spain recovered in his words Gibraltar then Ceuta and Melilla could be handed over to Morocco.

Ballesteros is a former diplomat, ambassador, academic, writer and so on and so forth so his words are listened to in his native Spain. His exact words were: "Las diferencias en el pretendido paralelismo entre Gibraltar y Ceuta y Melilla son tan sustantivas que no sólo desautorizan la supuesta identidad sino que permiten demostrar la distinta entidad y, por ende, la independencia de los casos. Ahora bien, igualmente existe un approach geostratégico de nivel: ninguna potencia permitirá que España controle las dos orillas del Estrecho, o dicho de otra manera, cuando España recupere Gibraltar, las ciudades pasarán a Marruecos, que es el leitmotiv desde el vecino del sur."

I stated this gave me a sense of déjà vu because as long ago as the mid-1990s I wrote of a geopolitic that could well see a trade off between the powers. Morocco, a valued ally of the West, would be allowed to take possession of Ceuta and Melilla, which it claims for its own, and in return Spain would be compensated with Gibraltar.

I suspect such an outcome would as Ballesteros suggests be acceptable to Madrid. Even though it has made the two North African enclaves parts of mainland Spain, and although leading Spanish politicians and the Royal Family go there on high profile visits, the pressure is very much on from Rabat return them. If Spain could save face by getting Gibraltar in return then such a deal would be snapped up tomorrow.

I did say I wrote my article in the mid-1990s and the world and Gibraltar's status in it has changed a lot since then. What has not changed is the Ballesteros and Partido Popular mindset that believes a geopolitic deal with a change of sovereignty in the three territories is a possibility. It isn't.

What has not changed is that Morocco still claims Ceuta and Melilla. What has not changed is that Spain still claims Gibraltar. What has changed is that the people of Gibraltar now have the right to self determine their own future: a right that is openly recognised and underscored by both the British Government and the British Crown.

From the days just over a decade ago when Blair and Aznar tried to stitch a deal on Gibraltar together we are now in the situation that Gibraltar's "independence" has never been more assured within the British family. Gibraltarians also as a people have their right to self determine their own future clearly set down in international law.

Unfortunately for the people of Ceuta and Melilla they have no such rights because they are Spanish citizens. Hence if Madrid decided tomorrow to hand the enclaves over to Morocco they could either move to mainland Spain or stay put but they would have no say on that policy. So Ceuta and Melilla may well become Moroccan but Gibraltar will never become Spanish.