Rajoy and Margallo may have thought tightening the screws on Gibraltar would be a good rouse to divert attention away from their party’s corruptions scandals. Problem is Spaniards are smarter than their leaders and spotted that one a mile off.
Rajoy and Margallo might have thought they were merely expounding their Gibraltar Español mantra by making Gibraltarians, Spaniards, EU citizens and other nationals wait in their cars for eight hours in steaming heat. If that was the case they again have been sorely disappointed as they have been held up as bullies before the world.
Rajoy and Margallo might have thought it would just be a diplomatic spat between London and Madrid, which would follow the same pattern as previous incidents. OK Gibraltarians and the residents of La Línea might have been inconvenienced, but hey, who cares about them? Whoops got that one wrong too.
So if Rajoy and Margallo want to find out the real damage they have done they need to go to their own tourist and property sectors. The dynamic duo have just destroyed their country’s image before Britons: both holiday makers and property buyers. The effects will only be slightly felt now but 2014 could spell a meltdown.
There is a large community of Britons leaving in Spain and they will largely be unaffected from the fallout of the current crisis. A large proportion of those live in English-speaking ghettos anyway and their contact with Spain or Spaniards is minimal. Even if they wanted to sell up and move how would you do that in a dead property market? No the place where Rajoy and Margallo have inflicted the damage is in the tourism market and property markets.
By and large this year’s holidays are booked and paid for and no insurance company is going to cough up a refund because Spain has been bullying Gibraltar.
Next year though is a different matter. Probably over 12 million Britons holiday in Spain each year and Britons are by far the most important market for the Costa del Sol. They are important in Cádiz too although in some areas Germans come top. The problem for Spain’s tourist chiefs is to persuade 12 million Britons to return in 2014 when their country treats Gibraltar with such utter contempt. Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Turkey and Malta must all be rubbing their hands in glee. Come to a country that likes Britain they’ll proclaim: and Britons will. So Spanish hotel, restaurant, bar, car hire and holiday attraction owners will be shaking and fearing the worst – and rightly so.
However it goes deeper than that. Spain has been desperate to woo Britons to buy the huge number of empty, unsold properties on its books, especially those in the banks’ portfolios. Sales teams and presentations have been made in Britain to attract UK buyers. Although Russians and others may now be turning to Spain the problem is there numbers are so small it would take decades for them to replace the British who might consider buying despite the horror tales that already fill the UK press about illegal Spanish homes.
The fact is the Spanish tourist board and property sector can take all the ads in the UK they like but they will always be outgunned by the news media showing Rajoy and Margallo inflicting pain on Gibraltarians who are fellow Britons. Spain has started a fire storm on its economy and the tourism sector risks getting its fingers very badly burnt indeed. If Britons abandon the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Costa Blanca it will be an economic disaster for Spain – and once lost they may never return.
Would this impact on Gibraltar? Well it might, but the current figures from our tourist board suggest not so far. However the Brits are a rum breed and don’t be surprised if they decide to flock to Gibraltar rather than Spain next year just to defy Rajoy and Margallo in the most effective way they can.
Oh one final word to the wise in Madrid, presuming there are some in the PP. If you believe Spain has problems with Britons now, just try forming an alliance with Argentina and you won’t know what has hit you. The wider Murdoch Empire in which The Sun never sets is working up its headlines as I write.