Gibraltar: This Rock stands in the way of our national interest

There is a case for summoning up our old colonial instincts to resolve this dispute

Share

When you learnt that Spain was operating a go-slow at the border with Gibraltar, threatening to charge €50 for crossing, and mooting a ban on Gibraltar-bound planes using Spanish air space, you probably thought: there they go again, big, clumsy Spain trying to intimidate poor little Gibraltar in vain pursuit of a 300-year-old quarrel. If you hazarded any explanation at all, you might have reasoned that the Madrid government wanted to divert Spaniards from their economic troubles, and had alighted on a flare-up over Gibraltar as a tried and tested solution.

Of course, an element of intended distraction cannot be excluded. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, is beleaguered. But what you probably did not think to ask, and most British news outlets did not initially tell you, was that Spain was upset for a reason. Gibraltar, it turns out, was building itself an artificial reef in an attempt to increase fish stocks; Spain feared the possible effects on its own fishing grounds. 

In other words, this dispute had not come out of the blue. There was a real issue, and the British government – whose early statements neglected to say anything about fishing – must have known this. Nor was Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, as far off the mark as he seemed, when he compared Spain’s threats to the ranting of North Korea. Like Kim Jong-un – whose sabre-rattling may not have been unrelated to US joint manoeuvres with South Korea – Spain, too, had a cause for complaint that the other side had failed to mention. Being paranoid, as they say, doesn’t mean they are not out to get you. 

It is possible that this spat, like others before it, will fade away. David Cameron has expressed concern, while the Foreign Secretary has given – fairly measured – assurances about the UK’s commitment to Gibraltar’s people. But what has happened underlines that, more than 10 years after Gibraltar scuppered an agreement between Madrid and the UK’s then Labour government, the underlying dispute is as capable of souring UK-Spain relations as ever.

A deal reached in 2002 would have left Gibraltar’s administrative arrangements unchanged, while accepting the principle of shared sovereignty. It unravelled after Gibraltarians staged a general strike and refused to service British warships; it was then laid to rest in a near-unanimous referendum. The prospects then were about as good as they will get, with a pro-Europe government in London and pragmatists in Madrid. Cameron’s Euro-sceptic ills  now probably rule out any policy change on Gibraltar. 

But should the rest of us not be asking why 30,000 people should have had, and still have, a veto on a normalisation that is so unambiguously in the British national interest? And if the UK and Spain were to get along better, then Gibraltar would have it easier, too. We should summon up what remain of our colonial instincts one last time and overrule the people of the Rock – for their own good.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'