A CALL FOR CALMER WATERS – PART 3: THE UK – STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
The current sovereignty dispute over British Gibraltar Territorial Waters has been, for the most part, slightly disconcerting when one thinks of the lack of 'publicly visible' definitive action by the UK to tackle Spain’s belligerence. The UK's efforts in the current crisis are normally met with accusations of an appeasing stance by most Gibraltarians. But is this correct or the whole story? To understand this, one must look at the whole Spanish / UK dimension and the wider story. I cannot possibly cover the plethora of points, so I will focus on what I believe are the main drivers.
Spain is annoyingly in a very unique position – it has the ability to blackmail one of the world’s superpowers with the simple utterance of our homeland in order to further or enhance their wider national ambitions. An example of this can be seen in Rajoy’s speech at the UN last year – in one fell swoop he reignited the medieval idea of the 'reconquista de Gibraltar', yet also mentioned that it was time for Spain to have a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Some may find the mention of these two ambitions as simply a mere coincidence, or even hypocritical – however it is far from it. For the last decade or so, the United Kingdom has been struggling to maintain its seat on the UNSC thanks to the European Union which desires to have a single seat (which will cover every nation in Europe on rotation). This is Spain’s way of saying “keep a seat on the council, but support our entry to it, or with Gibraltar as a backdrop we will push for you to lose your seat to make way for an EU one”.
Another lever which the Madrid Government can (and most probably will) use is the British expat population in Spain - in 2006 this was estimated to be about 761,000 (more than twenty-five times the population of Gibraltar). The sheer number of expats undoubtedly makes this a more lucrative tool in Spain’s desire to exert pressure or influence the UKs policy on a number of issues, yet it appears reluctant to do so given the financial implications. However with Gibraltar, Madrid is fomenting the current dispute with a view to positioning itself in an ideal position; at worst it has provided a convincing distraction for Andalucia (one of Spain’s most deprived regions) and at best it succeeds in furthering its own wider Foreign Policy ambitions.
On a wider scale, the dire economic situation in Spain has undoubtedly required Spain to look at ways in which it can obtain financial assistance in order to avoid a long lasting depression. It is of no surprise to many that the City of London is a major financial centre for international business and commerce and is one of three "command centres" for the global economy (along with New York City and Tokyo). The current UK government is trying to keep it that way, while Spain is nipping at London’s heels looking for some assistance in their own dismal mismanagement of their economy. For Spain, it would seem Gibraltar is the perfect attention seeking excuse.
More worrying however is Spain’s clear intent on offering Argentina moral support for its wish to reclaim the Falkland Islands – unfortunately they are both splinters from the same dense log and share much in common. Their sabre rattling, based on the fallacious territorial integrity argument are a sharp contrast to the original intentions of the United Nations. Is the world that naïve in believing their arguments when they so clearly exhume the corpse of recolonisation coincidentally during times of political or economic tribulations? This is why to me, Fabian Picardo’s recent speech on self-determination in Oxford was like a breath of fresh air.
It is with the Spanish Blackmail in mind that we can begin to understand the UKs diplomatic reluctance to grant Spain the escalation it is looking for. The UK has to face the PP who are masters of the politics of poli-tricks and poli-traps. Of course the UK has its clear red lines, however it is tempering its response to Spain’s belligerence as it also knows the harm Spain can do to its current standing in the EU (remember the Turbot War in 1995?) and the damage it can do to relations within NATO. Ultimately, our tiny rock is a pawn in Spain’s great game.
EU – ALL IN IT TOGETHER WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT
EU member states tend to act like neighbours – some you get on with, some you have to smile through your teeth and just put up with. Spain unfortunately is that annoying neighbour with a finger in everyone’s pie and in everyone’s business, strutting around looking for attention. When it wants something, it goes on a charm offensive or a temper tantrum like a toddler and throws its teddy bears out of the pram. A good friend of mine recently likened Spain to an octopus, with ever reaching tentacles. With this in mind it is no surprise that the EU wrongly designated management of some of our waters to Spain.
So what is the position we would like the UK to take? I see it as very simple and straightforward. I would like the UK to think how they would feel if France decided to designate the waters off Dover or Cornwall as French. Their reaction in that unlikely scenario is exactly what we want in Gibraltar – no more, no less.
If I am honest I have had my doubts and reservations on the current stance the UK is taking with Spain, but I still have faith that the UK will stand by us as long as we do not waiver in our resolve; that is if you can conveniently set aside the 'joint-sovereignty' machinations of the war monger Tony Blair, Straw and Co in 2002. Whenever I picture UK diplomacy, it tends to look graceful as a swan; however underwater they are paddling like crazy. I have no doubt that the UK is working tirelessly behind the scenes in concert with the Government of Gibraltar... time will tell if this assumption is correct or if the UKs efforts are for our benefit.
Lastly, the UK-Gibraltar relationship has always closely resembled a familial affair. We have leaned and relied on each other through trying times, aren’t afraid to tell each other where we are going wrong, and most importantly share a common communal spirit. As is true with all relationships, the strength of the bond Gibraltar has with the UK is only really tested through trial and tribulation. With that note, I end by defiantly saying to the three musketeers (Rajoy, Margallo and Landaluce):
“Try your very best... it will only make us stronger.”
NEXT WEEK –Part 4 - GIBRALTAR AND ITS PEOPLE; WHERE ARE WE GOING?
By Gareth Gingell
Chairman and Spokesperson for the Defenders of Gibraltar