Thursday, October 20, 2011


The former Minister for Europe in the Labour Government between 2002 - 2005, Denis MacShane, has written an article “Una nueva era” in the Spanish daily El Mundo. One might question why a socialist MP is writing in a newspaper that is to the extreme right of the political spectrum but then MacShane was a Blairite, so a Thatcherite with a smile.

I have crossed swords with Mr MacShane before. In the great Pantheon of politicians he would be a cleaner. You might ask would I rate the chief minister higher? Indeed I would, he would be at least a doorman.

The article has aroused a lot of interest not because of its basic thesis on USA – Spanish relations after the signing of the agreement under which Rota will be used as a base for NATO’s anti-missile shield. Rather because of a few lines out of eleven paragraphs in which MacShane writes: “Londres tiene que custionarse ahora sis u negative a discutir un acuerdo sobre Gibraltar tiene algún sentido estratégico.” Yes the venerable MacShane writes in Spanish.

There are two aspects to his article. The first suggests that the accord between the USA and Spain is a blow to the so-called US – British ‘special relationship’ because now Madrid is Washington’s best friend and not London. Hardly so. It also goes on to argue that because Rota has been honoured with this role it is to the detriment of Gibraltar – “La nueva base relegará la de la Royal Navy en Gibraltar a un apostadero de segundo nivel, para reparaciones y escalas de descanso del personal.”

In reality Rota has been a US naval base since 1953 (the US airbase at Moron just 75 miles away opened the same year). Under the accord four new U.S. ships will be based in Rota from 2013 as part of NATO’s anti-missile security shield. This will bring 1,100 more American families to the area – 3,400 people in total – and will create about 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. A good deal for Rota but hardly world changing.

Due to political pressure from Madrid, as has been revealed in the Wikileaks papers, US Naval vessels have largely by-passed Gibraltar for Rota. The US Naval Attaché has long since set sail from the Rock and the arrival of one of its warships is a rare event indeed. Hence whether the US sets up its base in Rota or Tangier would not make one iota of difference to Gibraltar. If MacShane is right and the US Navy will now dock at the Rock for repairs as well as ‘R and R’ that would be a welcome development.

The second aspect is because of what MacShane sees as disastrous development in US – UK relations (which is a fallacy) London and Madrid should talk about Gibraltar and do a deal. Obviously MacShane learnt nothing during his period as Minister of Europe when he was Gibraltar’s minister.

As MacShane well knows the future of Gibraltar is not a matter for London and Madrid but one for the people of the Rock alone to self-determine. London has not been negative with Madrid on this issue; it is just the British government has grasped the reality that has escaped MacShane. Gibraltar is not a pawn on the international chess board to be moved around or sacrificed in the interests of US – British – Spanish relations. It is a nation, albeit small, whose people enjoy all the rights of other peoples be they British, Spanish or US citizens. Sadly confused politicians such as MacShane wander around bumping in to reality as they go but learning nothing.

Put Down In Parliament:

The following exchange on Tuesday October 18 took place between the Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, and MacShane – obviously the new minister does not suffer this fool lightly either.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is the seventh Secretary of State since the conflict started, and we all wish him well. The statements, though, have not changed, even if Secretaries of State have come and gone. We hear about cautious optimism, determinism, determination and some interesting development statistics, then the next Secretary of State comes along and repeats the same statements. May I urge him to be the first one to grab hold of strategy and tactics from our 250-odd generals and ensure that whatever presence we maintain in Afghanistan, there are no more funeral cavalcades through Royal Wootton Bassett? Our men should stop being Taliban target practice.

Mr Hammond: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He may detect a similarity in the statements, and I may detect a similarity in his questions.