Diary: The PM’s comic opera on Statement day

Today's diary looks at Cameron's meeting with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, and the speculation over the new Royal Opera House chief exec.
  • @andymcsmith

While the nation’s attention was fixed on the Autumn Statement, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, slipped in and out of Downing Street for a chat with David Cameron. According to the Gibraltar government, it is “the first time in decades” that a Chief Minister – as opposed to the Governor General – has met a Prime Minister there.

Spain does not recognise Gibraltar as a UK territory. But as well as the usual arguments about border controls and Spanish ships sailing close to Gibraltar, an extraordinary argument has been rumbling on for months about conservation.

In 2009, the Spaniards were given EU backing to create a 69-square mile environmental zone called Estrecho Oriental which would be administered by Spain. No one in Gibraltar or in the Foreign Office was consulted or noticed anything – until experts on Gibraltar spotted that two square miles of the zone were in what Gibraltar regards as its territorial waters. More than three centuries after the British Navy seized the Rock, the Spanish appeared to have got back a bit of the surrounding sea by stealth.

The UK and Gibraltar protested to the European General Court. The Gibraltarians agreed to the area being a conservation zone, but insisted that it be a separate zone, administered by them. The court ruled in Spain’s favour. The Foreign Office lodged an appeal.

Mr Picardo, above, was pleasantly surprised to discover that Mr Cameron knew all about the ridiculous argument. The Gibraltar Chronicle reports a government spokesman there saying: “Mr Cameron’s commitment to Gibraltar was clear in his unequivocal statements as to the security of British sovereignty over all of Gibraltar.”

So, the PM is personally committed to maintaining a pointless diplomatic dispute with a fellow EU state over whether a couple of square miles of the Mediterranean is in an environmental zone with a Spanish name or with a British name, because of a nearby rock that was of strategic military significance decades ago. Gilbert and Sullivan could have put it to music.

... another musical interlude

As Tony Hall prepares to take over as Director- General of the BBC, there has been speculation about who might replace him as chief executive of the Royal Opera House. Yesterday, a gossip writer for The Spectator magazine threw in another name – Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, who once wrote a memorable description of how he spent his summer at a piano camp.  Rusbridger has denied it but, hell, the most important job he did before he was an editor was to write The Guardian’s diary, so who is he to complain?