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Gibraltar: The latest obstacle to Theresa May’s Brexit plan.

It’s the same with all empires at the end – the subject territories sense that their erstwhile masters have become weak and flabby, and start splitting away, or their former owners swoop in to take back what they consider theirs.

We have already seen the Democratic Unionist Party reneging on its confidence and supply deal to prop up Theresa May’s minority Conservative government in fear that the former will happen if the parts of her Brexit agreement concerning Northern Ireland come into force.

Now it seems the latter is happening, with Spain threatening to reject the deal unless it is given a free hand to negotiate the future of Gibraltar with the UK, separately from the rest of the EU.

The intention is clear: Spain wants Gibraltar back, and believes that it will have a better chance of achieving this without the other EU countries holding it back.

Nobody can blame Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and his foreign minister Josep Borrell because their logic makes perfect sense; the UK has shown nothing but weakness throughout the Brexit negotiations and it seems likely they believe Mrs May – or her successor, if she loses office as a result of domestic blunders – will have no choice but to concede the territory, in order to avoid harm to our international trading agreements.

Of course, we’ve all been told the British Empire ended more than half a century ago. But dependents like Gibraltar have helped the UK maintain itself as a strong military power with a stake in international affairs.

A threat to the UK’s ownership of even one such territory could create a cascade effect in which attempts are made to take many of them away at once – and the UK’s military capacity may no longer be great enough to prevent them all.

But the loss of even one will harm the country’s international reputation and accelerate its decline into backwater, “has-been” status – from which the world’s rising players may not allow it to rise for many lifetimes.

That’s just another potential consequence of David Cameron’s selfishness – and that of the Conservative Party that supported his halfwitted idea to have a referendum on our membership of the European Union when it really wasn’t a big issue to most people in the country.

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