August is fast approaching and I have my summer reading ready. When I was in London I bought a copy of Alastair Campbell’s latest diaries on Blair and the Iraq War (The Burden of Power: the countdown to Iraq). By chance I flicked though it last night to see what references there were on Gibraltar: three to be exact and very brief: my first reaction was they were of little interest.
However having slept on it I awoke this morning to realise Blair’s first reference to Gibraltar was in fact dynamite. I then read our Government’s statement on the Guardia Civil incursion on Friday and I believe in a very roundabout way there is a link.
Back to Blair who in Campbell’s book is preparing for a press conference with the Spanish premier José María Aznar. Blair asks Aznar: “What do you want me to say on Gibraltar?” Before Aznar can reply Campbell jumps in as shouts “Don’t answer that!”
Last night I took another sip of my gin and tonic and moved on. This morning I found the reference again whilst drinking my green tea and needed nothing stronger. Here is the British Prime Minister of the day asking the Spanish Prime Minister what Madrid wants him to say about Gibraltar. My God, thank goodness Campbell was there to stop the answer although we know from the joint sovereignty debacle that followed just what it was!
Now a lot of water has flowed under Westminster Bridge since then but in some ways relations between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have not changed one jot. Spain, especially PP governed Spain, is still the bully and it knows that every time it give Gibraltar a Chinese burn No.6 has to run to Whitehall for help.
The problem is Westminster and Whitehall are none too keen to get involved. Anglo - Spanish relations always come before Anglo – Gibraltar relations simply because Spain is more important to the UK as a trading and political partner than Gibraltar is. I suspect as I write a Mandarin in the Foreign Office is dusting down a formal protest to Madrid on Friday’s incident: it will be presented and accepted with all due ceremony then put in the cardboard box with all the others and promptly forgotten about.
Let me give you two scenarios: on Friday night a French Gendarmerie patrol boat boarded a UK vessel in British waters off Dover and under darkness took the boat to Calais where the innocent crew where held for two hours and then released. Result: all hell would have broken loose, the TV news channels would be giving blanket coverage, politically and diplomatically Britain would be breathing fire!
OK, on Friday night an Argentinean naval patrol boarded a Falkland’s vessel in the island’s waters and took it under darkness to Buenos Aires where the British crew were held and questioned before being released. Result: Britain would be jumping up and down at the UN and Royal Navy patrols would be beefed up.
So too last Friday: a Guardia Civil armed patrol boat boards a British vessel in Gibraltar’s water and takes it in darkness to Algeciras where after two hours questioning the crew and boat are finally released.
Is Britain breathing fire? No!
Is it receiving 24 hours UK news coverage? No!
Has Britain increased its Royal Navy presence? No!
Is Britain’s ambassador to the UN lodging an urgent protest? No!
The key difference between the first and second scenarios and Gibraltar is they took place in British home waters and the oil rich waters of the Falklands. Gibraltar is adrift, alone, in the waters of the bay – albeit it British Territorial ones, which some Whitehall Mandarin thought were off Algeria, so left to Spain under the EU’s environmental plans.
And so we return to the ghost of a British Prime Minister asking his Spanish counterpart – “What do you want me to say on Gibraltar?”
The fact is the waters, airspace and borders of Gibraltar will only be fully secure when Gibraltar and not Britain defends them. Gibraltar has to stand up alone to the Spanish bully and until it does the pinching and punching will go on and on and on. The ultimate challenge is will Gibraltar take on this nasty bully because London won’t.