When Gibraltarians reflect on recent British premiers it is usually Mrs Thatcher who invokes their ire. The Iron Lady and her Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe were responsible for the Brussels Process which many identify as being at the heart of Gibraltar’s problems with Spain.
The Brussels Process certainly was not helpful but like the Cordoba Accord may well disappear in time. The British PM who has cast his shadow over the lives of Gibraltarians for evermore is Tony Blair and his sin is he blinked.
Ever since 1703 Spain has been constant in its belief – Gibraltar is Spanish and every government for over 300 years, regardless of political persuasion, has followed that dogma.
Gibraltar is British has also been the mantra of successive UK government’s including Mrs Thatcher’s. Remember it was she who snubbed Madrid by sending Prince Charles and the hapless Diana off from Gibraltar on their honeymoon thus invoking the fury of Spain. The Royals had nothing to do with it, they would have been happy to go to Bognor.
What has changed for Gibraltar is that Tony Blair, who wishing to engage with José María Aznar’s government, blinked and for the first time in history Madrid saw that its ambitions for Gibraltar could become a reality.
Blair, his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Minister for Europe Peter Hain, actively tried to drag Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty agreement, which without doubt, would have one day have been a sole sovereignty deal. The UK government did not bow to Spanish pressure; Blair actively promoted the policy and was furious when the pesky Gibraltarians and their chief minister Peter Caruana put paid to it by holding a referendum which thoroughly rejected any such sell out. Madrid decried the validity of the referendum but its stance paled in to insignificance compared with the fury voiced by London.
What brought this to mind were my fellow jimenato José Carracao’s recent comments when the PSOE Senator stated that Gibraltar’s military role was the key reason why the Rock is not being returned to Spain. In a sense he is right and one can understand why a Spanish politician would hold such a view.
Gibraltar has always been a British military base and it is only in comparatively recent years that any thought or voice has been given to the Gibraltarian people. Whilst the November 7 2002 referendum was decisive in one sense what probably stopped Blair in his tracks was the total opposition of the Ministry of Defence to any joint sovereignty deal as it would compromise the military installations.
So seen from Madrid, whilst Blair’s government was very happy to promote and proceed with a joint sovereignty deal, in the end it floundered on the MoD’s opposition. That is what is remembered by Carracao and other Spanish politicians and in that memory they are not wrong.
The opposition of Gibraltarians and the referendum are secondary for Spain. Madrid views the subject of Gibraltar’s sovereignty to be a matter between it and London so the wishes of the people of the Rock do not enter in to the equation.
The problem for Gibraltarians is that whilst Spain has stayed steadfast over its claim Britain has not. Indeed Blair’s government enthusiastically tried to bounce the Rock in to a joint sovereignty deal. Hence Madrid believes if it happened once, it can happen again with London the weak link in the sovereignty chain. What’s more the stumbling block is not the Gibraltarians but the military base. That is Blair’s legacy for Gibraltar.