I have been catching up with my reading. I have come across an article on remarks made by Carmen Crespo who is the delegate of the Andalucía government. She was speaking after the first incursion of the Spanish warship, Vencedora, on Tuesday of last week. The report was from Europa Press which in turn featured an interview she had given to Canal Sur Radio where she spoke of our government’s persistent “reluctance” to accept the waters around the Rock are Spanish.
Although Crespo spoke of the Vencedora she was also taking the Andalucía angle of expressing her concern about the banning of Spanish fishermen to operate in our waters. Here she spoke of our “reticencias” to accept the right of the fishermen of the “Bahía de Algeciras” to “pesca totalmente legal y sin ningún tipo de cortapisa” in our waters because “no asumen que son aguas jurisdiccionales españolas”.
Crespo was saying nothing new but what she did was enunciate very clearly the true state of the stand-off between all the parties on these issues. On the British – Gibraltarian side we have the belief, backed by international treaty, that Gibraltar has three miles of British Gibraltarian Territorial Waters surrounding the Rock. From Spain’s perspective the waters around Gibraltar are Spanish and the basis for that is the fact the Treaty of Utrecht did not grant any rights over the waters. Hence Spain, be it the Armada or a fishing boat from La Línea, believes that when its vessels enters our waters it is in fact in Spanish waters. Nothing new there but at least the dispute is clear.
Of course this situation is not new and existed in 1999 when the local Spanish fishermen held the former Supreme Leader over a fish barrel and persuaded him to break the law of Gibraltar by allowing them to fish illegally in our waters in contravention of the 1991 Nature Protection Act. Not only did the Supreme Leader break that law and continued to do so till he was ousted from office last December but his former Minister of Justice, who is desperate for his job as leader of the opposition, endorses to this day this illegal act. Nothing new there either.
What may be new is the reaction of the Convent being the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in disguise. In the past incursions, be they from the Guardia Civil, other Spanish agencies or the Armada, have evoked angry statements from No.6 but a hushed response from the neighbours across the street. Not this time: indeed I think the Convent’s statement spitting diplomatic fire arrived in my inbox well before our government’s own response.
It could be that the Guardia Civil, the coast guard or environmental patrols have not been of a sufficient high profile to waken the Governor or the F&CO from its let sleeping dogs lie stance. However an armed warship is another kettle of fish especially twice in a week. Such incursions cannot be tolerated by London because if Nelson’s blind eye is turned here it would send the wrong signals to Argentina. I have written here before on the linkage between the UK’s tough words on sovereignty and the right to self determination for both Gibraltar and the Falklands. So just imagine the furore in Whitehall if an Argentine warship appeared in the waters of the Falkland’s on two consecutive Tuesdays.
Crespo has crisply set out the dispute: now it is for London to take the issue to Madrid and if need be the wider international forums such as the UN or courts of law. Gibraltar’s right to its own international waters are set out in the Geneva Convention. That right has to be upheld or the Falkland’s right goes down the drain too.