Diplomatic incident in the Med! Enemy vessels threatens British enclave! Dive…dive…dive!!
Yes a wee Spanish survey boat came cheekily close to the sovereign waters of Gibraltar and – damn those siesta-lovers – didn’t they refuse to clear off under orders from Her Imperial Majesty’s Royal Navy. The brave Brit tars had to send out what looked like a pleasure craft, a kind of high-powered pedallo, to shadow the impudent imposters. Actually the RN pedallo may be all Britain’s got left as it downgrades its naval capacity by building aircraft carriers without aircraft.
Such was the storm of indignation from the British that the Spanish Ambassador was summoned for a telling off in London which I imagined to be a bit like Basil Fawlty slapping Manuel across the head.
What imaginings the Establishment conjures to bolster its self-imposed air of importance. How on earth could Spain which I think is still a member of the EU and of NATO be remotely threatening to Britain? If they are doing subsea surveys in the Med, so what? If they aren’t but are spoiling for trouble, why play their game? It really does sound like one of those affairs that require the teacher to come out and separate the wee boys.
What on earth do the Brits think they are protecting in Gibraltar in any case, apart from some 19th century concept of being a naval power policing the Straights where they used to plunder the vessels of Spain, France, Italy and Malta as they did when Nelson was in his pomp.
Gibraltar appears to be a kind of tax haven, although cleared of any toxic associations, in which companies operate remotely – for example betting companies which supply 15 per cent of GDP – paying no tax in Britain, something the Revenue and Customs is trying to clamp down on. There is no sales tax despite EU membership. What, one wonders, does Gibraltar actually do for Britain that justifies naval intervention anyway.
Is there any strategic military need to have British forces defending the Rock and from whom? The Spanish? Surely an historical anomaly involving a tiny area of coastal land within the EU could be solved by Madrid and London agreeing, perhaps with a joint sovereignty deal initially, a moderate idea rejected by Gibraltarians 10 years ago. The rights of Gibraltarians are protected by the EU and retaining red pillar boxes hardly requires naval intervention. I don’t remember Britain threatening military action to prevent the Chinese retaking Hong Kong. I was there at the time and there was fury among the locals that their colonial overlord wouldn’t even give them passports to Britain. Why the difference with Gibraltar?
I ask because it seems to be there’s an opportunity for a bit of Scottish diplomacy here. If it’s the case that Madrid plans to veto Scottish membership of the EU, might their stance be softened by an indication from Edinburgh that it would support the opening of talks on the status of Gibraltar? This means a lot to Spain, it’s become a point of honour and I would imagine there would be barely suppressed glee if they found an ally within the British Isles with whom they could do business. It could really raise Scotland’s profile and, with many European countries uneasy at Britain’s carping and her colonial instincts, might change perceptions about the kind of EU neighbour Scotland could become.
Of course, we would be immediately branded disloyal and acting beyond our status by the same British government which I suspect would hit new heights of apoplexy but there’s nothing to stop an aspiring new state from forging its own external relations by flexing its nascent muscle. It would demonstrate to Europe that not everybody in these islands is tied to a faded glory.
Would it be appropriate for one small country seeking independence to act against what the local inhabitants would regard as another (relatively) independent nation? One difference is that Gibraltar is actually part of the Spanish mainland entirely separate from the UK and is an historical anomaly from a time when we were regularly at war with Spain. Scotland was regularly at war with England but did sign up to a treaty to come together. Scotland is not, like Gibraltar, seeking the protection of the UK and if Britain shared sovereignty with Spain or handed the Rock over, all that would actually change on the peninsula is the1000 Spanish workers not having to queue at a border to get to work.
I think it’s worth at least a preliminary discussion between the Scottish government and the Spanish authorities in Britain because that would put the wind up Whitehall – I presume they bug the FM’s phone.
(I don’t believe by the way that anybody will block Scotland’s EU membership by voting against. The only possibility is that, if my information is correct, there will be qualified majority voting which allows for example Spain to vote No in the knowledge it won’t prevent Scotland becoming a member).