Historically, Gibraltar was strategically valuable as a sort of gate guarding access to the Mediterranean - it was also very defensible from the rest of the Spanish mainland. Control of Gibraltar allowed Britain to keep fleets bottled up in the Mediterranean, and control trade between Mediterranean ports and the rest of the world, at the cost of a small garrison.
The construction of the Suez Canal made it even more vital as a fortress guarding the British Empire's most important sea route, along with Malta and Singapore. It ensured UK merchant vessels and warships could always quickly get to India, Hong Kong, Australia etc by keeping access to the Med, and thus the Suez Canal, in British hands.
Nowadays of course, these former advantages are no longer a factor in the Gibraltar dispute. The Empire is gone, and Spain & the UK are NATO allies and fellow EU members. Gibraltar is of little strategic or economic value to the UK in this century - the primary reason for keeping it is simply politics.
The people who live there overwhelmingly consider themselves to be British, and have no desire to become a part of Spain. Any politician who tried to hand over Gibraltar would be committing electoral suicide, as he/she would face a massive backlash from the public who'd consider such an action to be a betrayal of the Gibraltarians.
It's a bit like the Falklands issue. Politicians would love to hand over both territories as doing so would improve relations with Spain and Argentina - as well as cut defense expenditure - but they can't publicly admit it because then the people wouldn't vote for them. Consequently the territories will not be relinquished anytime soon.
· 6 years ago