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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?