The Matter of the Rock


For four centuries there had been a key matter in the relationship between Spain and the British Isles. Stolen in war and occupied by colonists, Gibraltar was the constant reminder that Iberia lacked true independence. With a new, seemingly more diplomatic, government there were many in Madrid that hoped that the United Kingdom could finally be convinced diplomatically. A letter would be sent to the new Prime Minister.

Your Excellency,

First of all I wish to congratulate you on your new assignment. While I imagine you are quite busy forming your new government, I would like to reach out to you to discuss a matter vital to the national security of the Iberian Union and our relationship with your United Kingdom. This is the matter of Gibraltar. It is my hope that after four centuries we may finally be able to resolve this dispute in a manner that can satisfy the United Kingdom, the settlers and the Iberian Union. For this purpose I would like to invite yourself or a representative from your new Cabinet to meet with me in the Royal Palace.

Kind regards,
Queen Alba of Spain and Portugal

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London received the queen’s letter with some amusement. The PM didn’t expect Gibraltar to be the first foreign policy matter on the table, but she did expect the Iberian government to want to address the issue sooner or later. She regretted she could not leave the country yet, but the queen deserved an appropriately high ranking official to meet with. She decided to send the UK’s Foreign Secretary Peter Martin on his first overseas trip.

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After receiving confirmation that the Foreign Secretary would arrive the Royal Armed Forces would take the required precautions to guarantee a smooth and welcoming arrival. The Foreign Secretary himself would be welcomed at the Madrid International Airport by a honour guard and the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. After an initial welcome the Foreign Secretary would be taken to the Royal Palace in a Royal Army convoy where Queen Alba awaited his arrival.

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Martin greeted his Iberian counterpart, flanked by a few aides and protection agents. He observed proper decorum, but was eager to meet the queen. British foreign intelligence tried to brief him on her as much as possible, but since she had only recently reached adulthood there was a dearth of information. He only knew what public sources could provide, therefore he would be the first person in the British government to make an assessment of her.

He followed protocol at the palace when he was presented to the queen. He bowed his head, and waited for her to speak first.

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Alba smiled at the man as he bowed before her. People had done it her whole life and she had gotten used to it but it still made her uncomfortable at times. Especially when the person doing it was much older or, as in this case, more experienced than her. “Mister Foreign Secretary, thank you so much for being able to get here so soon. I hope your flight was comfortable and that my people have treated you well” She said as she motioned for the man to follow her further inside and towards her study where they could talk in a more personal setting.

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“I has been a delightful trip,” He said in a posh English accent, a characteristic of his upper class upbringing. “Your people have been very kind, and the city is beautiful.”

Martin walked alongside the queen as she guided him through the palace. He was somewhat surprised that someone so young would take the lead in this type of a negotiation, but he would not underestimate her. He was eager to know if the Iberian government already had a proposal, but did not want to be impolite. Since the queen was his host, and the higher ranking official he needed to let her steer the conversation.

Once at her study the two would find a tray with beverages prepared. There was of course tea but not to force their guest in a corner, there was also coffee and cold options. Alba for her part kept it simple and grabbed a glass of water. “That is good to hear, and thank you so much. Having spent most of my time in Lisbon, the city is still very new to me but I have definitely learned to appreciate the many things it has to offer” She replied as she sat down.

“Now my mother always told me that in these things it is best to get the most difficult things out of the way first so that one might then focus on the easier topics. As you know I wrote to your Prime Minister considering the status of Gibraltar. While the territory was ceded to the United Kingdom in the Treaty of Utrecht, the settlement has since expanded beyond the treaty limits and it has been a goal of Spain long before either of us were born to see it returned to her control. What I would like to propose is a compromise of sorts that will serve the interest of all three involved factions. The maritime security and trade needs of the United Kingdom, the territorial and security needs of the Kingdom of Spain and the cultural needs of the people of Gibraltar.” She paused a moment to take a sip of water and let the initial words sink in. “I would like to propose a one year transition of Joint Administration where the Kingdom of Spain and United Kingdom jointly administer Gibraltar, during this time the administrative and practical measures will be taken for a smooth transition upon conclusion of the year to the sole jurisdiction of Spain will follow. In return Spain will guarantee the protection of the unique Gibraltar culture, its local languages and dialects as well as the continued ability to access the United Kingdom. Finally, the United Kingdom will be allowed to retain its military bases, albeit under a perpetual lease and will be ceded a similar sized enclave in our West Sahara territory that would be perfect for space launches in this ever involving new frontier. Finally the Iberian Union will guarantee unrestricted passage through the Strait to all British shipping under a non-aggression treaty. In essence a win-win-win for all parties involved.”

Martin listened carefully to the queen’s proposal without interrupting. It is true that Spain has been trying to get Gibraltar back since before the ink used to sign the Treaty of Utrecht was dry. But the British government’s position had not changed in nearly 400 years. He stirred his tea and milk while leaning back against his chair. He was curious how she would receive what he was about to say.

“Your Majesty, the British government is sensitive to your concerns. National security is peace of mind and peace of mind is hard to achieve these days. Sadly we cannot accommodate you on this issue. For all intents and purposes the Gibraltarians are British citizens and subjects of His Majesty, and the people have voted time and again against Spanish rule. After 400 years their culture is so different that annexation would be soundly rejected. We simply cannot sell them out without their permission for a treaty and a base we do not need. It doesn’t sound like a win-win situation as much as a trade for something Britain does not want.”

Martin sips his tea and lowers the cup resting it on his lap. “Ascension island is a suitable place for a spaceport, so we do not need land in Africa. However, if you are receptive, we are willing to cooperate with your government. We would allow you to inspect our facilities, send envoys, and even station troops in a joint military base. It would have to be more permanent, of course, but a step in the right direction.”

Alba listened as the Englishman spoke. The response was disappointing but she would take great care to hide such disappointment.

"I believe there exists some misunderstanding about my proposal. The bases would be those bases you currently hold within Gibraltar. However rather than owning the land you would lease them. The territorial transfer would not be a base but a territory of equal size to the Gibraltar colony within the West Saharah. So more than a base this would become territory of the United Kingdom. It is also to my understanding that Ascension Island is prone to weather events that make space operations very difficult and it is much further from the nearest British military presence in case of emergencies.

I understand your point regarding the residents of Gibraltar being British citizens. This is also not something we dispute, in fact the Kingdom of Spain has very much acknowledged that when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed all but a few dozen of the Spanish that left there were displaced. Within the Iberian Union we would be willing to respect their British citizenship and provide special protections for their culture. However if that is not acceptable enough for the people of Gibraltar we would also be willing to finance their resettlement in either the proposed new British territory in the West Saharah or to the British Isles. Including full compensation above market value of any property they own" She said before taking a sip from the glass. “Mister Foreign Secretary, I am going to have to be honest with you. The Spanish factions within the Iberian Union have made it clear that there can be no relations with the United Kingdom while it still owns Iberian territory. As a Portuguese woman myself I recognize our historic friendship and absolutely desire to see a similar friendship created between the Iberian Union and the United Kingdom. However as long as Gibraltar is British, such a thing is not possible. We are willing to concede a lot to make it possible, however Gibraltar returning to Spain is a red line we cannot erase”

“That is unfortunate ma’am. Of course you have to maintain the loyalty of your Spanish subjects but if you are willing to end all diplomatic contact because we’re willing to trade British territory, then we are in a sorry state indeed.” The foreign minster placed special emphasis on British territory.

“The truth is the people of Gibraltar do not want Spanish rule. They soundly rejected it many times. We had hoped to meet you halfway and begin a framework. But we cannot acquiesce to a radical faction of foreign government.”

He realized that he was beginning to sound overbearing and pompous. He had another sip of tea in hopes of reverting to a diplomatic tone. “Are these Spanish factions in your government willing to move on this issue, or is your offer final?”

“Yes, as I said before the exact terms of the arrangement are open to alteration. The only thing that I cannot budge on is that a solid framework with a timeframe for full Spanish sovereignty to be restored must be part of the arrangement. What protections are offered to the people and what we will give in return are matters that I can freely move on”

“That is unfortunate.” he said lowering his head.

“It appears we have reached an impasse. Our position has not changed, and will not change as long as diplomacy is being held hostage.” He finished his tea and placed the cup gently on a nearby table. It seems he had failed his first job as Foreign Minister.

Alba nodded. “That is unfortunate indeed. I would truly have liked to see economic, cultural and perhaps even military cooperation thrive but as long as the United Kingdom still owns Iberian soil that simply is not possible. In that case I do apologize for wasting your time and think it is best that we conclude this meeting here.”

“I quite agree. thank you for your hospitality, your majesty.”

He gathered up his things then approached the door to the study. He stopped briefly for one final remark, “Despite the differences that have arisen here, King Henry wishes you a long and happy reign, ma’am.”

Alba nodded. “Thank you, mister Foreign Secretary. I wish him the same. As well as your Prime Minister.”