Spain’s Foreign Secretary Margallo has been caught again telling porkie pies about having bilateral talks with the UK on environmental issues. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been called upon to deny it and it duly has.
However if we believe that London does not talk bilaterally to Madrid about Gibraltar then we are being extremely naive. Of course it does.
When the Spanish Ambassador was called to hear the UK’s protest over its warships entering our waters that was a bilateral meeting simply because no person representing Gibraltar was there. I am sure on that occasion Madrid’s man received a stern ticking off, because now the defence of Gibraltar’s waters is very much in the UK’s self interest. Yet like it or not it was a bilateral encounter.
Spanish and British officials meet all the time be it in London or Madrid. It is what Foreign Office mandarins and diplomats do. I am sure that for now British officials and diplomats staunchly defend the stated position on our Sovereignty and the fact that jurisdiction on all matters except defence and foreign affairs is constitutionally with Her Majesty's Government of Gibraltar. Let be frank, it has not always be so.
None the less it beggars belief that over cups of tea and digestives in Whitehall, chocolate and churros in Madrid and on the cocktail circuit that diplomats and officials do not chat about Gibraltar. They chat about the border queues, the environmental issues and numerous other topics that relate to the Rock – and they do it bilaterally because our Man in London is not there and we do not have a Man or Woman in Madrid.
Of course Margallo and his sidekicks can make mischief out of this situation by saying they have had bilaterals with the UK – which of course they have. We then nag the sweet FCO to issue a denial which they do because in their terms they haven’t. Spaniards are cute enough to know this keeps our nerves jangling and sows the seeds of doubt.
I see no reason why in this day and age Gibraltar cannot have a desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office staffed by Gibraltarians. The same should apply to all British Overseas Territories. Gone are the days when Gibraltarians were treated like a class of schoolchildren – patted on the head when good or sent to stand in the corner when bad. When the issue of Gibraltar is raised we should have somebody on the spot to at least be a party to the discussions: then they would be trilateral.
It is not just in cases of conflict that a Gibraltarian should be on hand. The current crisis over the environmental supervision of our waters would never have happened if a Gibraltarian had been involved in the original process of establishing what were Spain’s and which were Britain’s. There are also numerous other issues affecting primarily the EU and how they impact on Gibraltar that needs to be properly represented in Whitehall. We should no longer tolerate the impact on the Rock being discovered or discussed as an afterthought.
We have a Governor and his staff in Gibraltar whose email addresses betray all too clearly that they work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and not for us. They are the FC&O on the ground here. What Gibraltar needs, and needs now, is its own feet on the ground in Whitehall –and even Madrid.