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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Well yesterday I had decided not to look at the usual suspects moaning about Gibraltar. How usual is this suspect though? Max Hastings is supposedly the Guardian's conservative columnist, because even its normal brand of readers will want a bit of diversity now and then. In that regard I'm not so sure Hastings is the best choice. With the exception of defence policy, any conservative credentials Max Hastings may ever have had are slowly but definitely fading away. This piece of his on Gibraltar is a case in point:

Unlike the Falklands and Argentina, the Rock is physically attached to Spain. Who can be surprised that its continued status as a bastion of British empire makes the Spanish very angry indeed?

What a convincing argument that is! The Republic of Ireland is physically attached to the UK at its border to Northern Ireland and the Irish Sea isn't really that wide either come to think of it, Ireland used to be under British control, so really, by Hastings' logic we should be arguing for the annexation of the Irish republic. Here's a thought: perhaps sovereignty should be decided and be based on other considerations than geography. Why then after all is Portugal an independent state or Spain for that matter? They sit on roughly the same larger geographic space, that the British territory of Gibraltar is; perhaps we should annex them both.

At an Anglo-Spanish political conference a few years ago, I was impressed by the number of thoughtful liberal Spanish delegates who emphasised to the British that Gibraltar is not merely a jingo issue which their government occasionally makes a fuss about. It is a source of deep-seated resentment.

To which I can only say: Get over it. If you just give it a rest no one should really have to care about it. And anyway, what is this deep-seated resentment if not jingoism? Resentment at what? A lost war centuries ago? A British Gibraltar harms no one.

Yet a British Labour government thinks it politic to dispatch a warship and a cabinet minister to join the celebrations.

I think that doesn't really amount to much if you ask me. I agree with Laban Tall that Hoon is a dreadful choice and if I were prime minister I would have gone personally, dragged our good Liz II along and declared a national holiday.

Perhaps Tony Blair is so cross about Spain's withdrawal of its soldiers from Iraq, and so despairing of any amiable colloquy about Europe with Spain's socialist government that he doesn't care any more.

Some good points not to give a monkey about Spanish opinion, but our Max strangely fails to see the accuracy of his argument. To call Spain our ally is just non-sense. In the sense that we're both in NATO and the EU, okay, but that's about it. What else is Spain good for Britain for? Aznar was in terms of his Atlantic, free market and sovereignist attitudes towards the EU an abberation and not the rule of Spanish politics.

Yet even many of those of us who have become sceptical about joining the euro or signing the European constitution want Britain to engage constructively with Europe. How likely are we to achieve this if we flaunt the union flag in the face of the Spanish in a manner worthy of the British National party?

If only we we allow Spain to occupy and colonise Gibraltar, we would be able to shape the EU just as we like. Sounds fantastic. Literally. And what is the point about that BNP jibe? Just childish Mr Hastings. I wonder who needs to grow up?
In fairness, Hastings makes a few good points about the rather dodgy financial services industry in Gibraltar. However, while most of his criticism here is accurate it is again irrelevant. What does it matter to the issue of democratic self-determination that some members of the government are corrupt and have friends who are crooks? Where would that in fact leave virtually every peoples' right to self-determination?
And this is where Hastings' major mistake lies, in regards to the right of Gibraltarians to decide their nationality:

It is emotional and nostalgic, protected by a figleaf of principle about the absolute rights of local populations, however tiny.
. . .
It is ludicrous to suggest that the populations of such places as the Falklands or Gibraltar should possess an absolute veto on all debate about their future.

But that's the whole fuss: they are not to be given any choice on their future, either from the Spanish side or the British Government. If the Spaniards are allowed to be angry over a British possession that doesn't do them any harm, the Gibraltarians and those of us in mainland Britain who support them have every rigth to be angry that their democratic right to self-determination, their sovereignty and their citizenship are to be stripped from them forcibly, without debate.
Hastings is however spot on with this:

Today, that same government has dispatched Hoon to add official glamour to the 300th anniversary celebrations, unless the choice of the defence secretary represents an elaborate joke by Downing Street.

What else could it possibly be?

Yet the fact that Britain cannot summon the will to extricate itself from Gibraltar suggests a nation - us, not them - which has not grown up.

Although he doesn't say why we are being cildish, and not the Spanish. I think for an impartial observer both sides probably look pretty childish. But that's the whole point of the dispute: for both sides it's childish and somewhat jingoistic to insist on their viewpoint. But why should we back down then? The argument of democracy and commen sense, as I made clear yesterday, are clearly on our side. So why should Britain back down? There is no reason, but self-belittlement. Perhaps not surprising form the Guardian where you expect that sort of thing, but from Max Hastings disappointing. Hastings often proclaims a love for the Services, but his attitudes are from removed from theirs. The British military ethos and esprit de corps rests on the affection for often eccentric left-overs from the past; as indeed any conservative does too. Which again underlines my earlier point that he doesn't really work as a conservative. And just to think, he used to be the editor of the Daily Telegraph. It makes me shudder.
But talking of the Telegraph, here's something sensible on Gibraltar:

The Blair administration wanted to sell Gibraltar down the river in exchange for Spanish friendship in Europe, to counterbalance the Franco-German axis. This scheme was upset in any case by Spain's election this year of a Socialist government, far less to Mr Blair's taste. Its first eager act was to order its troops out of Iraq, where they had been co-operating with British forces.
. . .
Spain will not be mollified by being reminded of its enclaves in Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla. The farce two years ago of Morocco's seizure and Spain's recapture of Perejil - goat-ridden Parsley Island - shows that reason does not touch territorial totems. But Gibraltar remains no more Spanish than Jersey is French. The Government must say so plainly, to establish Anglo-Spanish relations in reality, and for the sake of the people of Gibraltar, whose determination is unwavering.

Just so. As far as I'm concerned the solution to the whole problem is the full integration of Gibraltar into the United Kingdom with all that entails: own MP, cast iron sovereignty and an end to the wrangling with Spain, but also the same tax rates and financial services standards. In the context of the EU a little piece of Britain at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula shouldn't be an issue, any larger than any other border crossing.

PS: Here's the link to the excellent piece in the Economist I quoted at length yesterday. Sorry, but it's subscribers only.


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