I have never been an advocate of gunboat diplomacy and believe that tensions in the bay and our waters should be lessened and not heightened.
This seems also to be the policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who seemed happy enough that incursions in to British Gibraltar Territorial Waters by the Guardia Civil or other Spanish Government agencies be met by RGP or the Royal Navy launches.
I suspect the view in London was these were essentially police, customs, coast guard or environmental vessels and hence to send a fully armed warship out to meet them would be disproportionate. I suspect they were right except of course what the FCO also needed to do but failed was to send strong messages to Madrid that even these illegal incursions were not acceptable. Inviting the ambassador or foreign ministry officials around for a cup of tea and handing them a letter of protest, which would be filed as soon as they returned to their office, was not what was required but was Whitehall’s way of doing things.
Of course the game has now changed. It changed when rather stupidly not reading the runes Madrid sent a warship on two consecutive Tuesdays in to our waters: on the second occasion provocatively displaying a war flag. I receive a regular supply of emails from No 6 but never before have I received a steady stream from The Convent jumping up and down about the Spanish actions. As I said in a recent article: the tide has changed.
The tide has changed because the British Government’s stance on Gibraltar is very much linked to the Falklands. I have stated here before the welcome strong words from the British Prime Minister David Cameron, his Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Europe Minister David Lidington on our sovereignty and right to self determination were very much provoked because of the need to remain strong over the Falklands. It was no good being weak on Gibraltar because that would give a sign to Buenos Aires that pressure on London would pay off over the Malvinas.
Whether Spain wanted to impress the Latin American heads of state and prime ministers gathered in Cádiz last week for the bicentenary of La Pepa Constitution of 1812 – the Spanish Magna Carta and that of many of these countries – by acting tough over Gibraltar is anybody’s guess. It was either that or a massive miscalculation by Margallo.
The fact is Britain could allow the police, customs, coast guard or environmental agencies to mess around in our waters because quite simply none of them would have ventured out to the Falklands. However a warship is a different kettle of fish as has been displayed by The Convent’s and the Foreign Office’s angry response.
The RGP will shortly have larger patrol boats to meet the Guardia Civil and others but there is no warship on standby to fly the White Ensign in the face of the Armada. I think that should change. British MP Andrew Rosindell has stated the same in the House of Commons and he was right to do so.
I appreciate that the Royal Navy is short of warships but I am sure one could be stationed in Gibraltar even if it had to leave port to undertake missions elsewhere. The point is it should be in our port or at any time a short distance away so that any incursion by the Spanish navy will never be sure whether it will be met by a RN launch or one warship with a very large gun or missile.
Sending a gun boat need not necessarily increase tensions. After all it can carry out NATO tasks in the Straits and the Med. The Ministry of Defence often sends warships to the Falklands insisting it is not an act of provocation but just part of a vessel’s tour of duty. What is good for the Falklands is equally good for Gibraltar and the Rock would welcome being host and home to Royal Navy vessels on a permanent basis.