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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Gibraltar is today celebrating its tercentennary as a British territory. I will avoid watching any coverage of the event because I already know how it will be spoilt, by whining Spaniards and even more whining guilt-plagued bleeding heart Brits, two groupings that will be given more than adequate coverage by the "B"BC and spoil any fun the celebrations would be otherwise. Perhaps I'll watch it with the sound switched off.
What irritates me the most about the whole story is how pointless the Spanish political class's behaviour really is. By and large no Spaniards, or anybody else for that matter, are suffering from the current status (and a few euros in missing taxes hardly count as "suffering"). Now imagine that somehow Gibraltar does end up in Spanish posession. How are the locals going to react? Let's face it, the Spanish are going to be about as welcome as "liberators" as the Argentines were on the Falklands. Can you imagine how the apparent ending of a colonial status for the Gibraltarians would look like on tv? No smiling faces as the hated oppressors leave but instead the exact opposite, demonstrations, stone throwing, jeering and the like against representatives of the Spanish state. This would be no image of an end of foreign occupation, but its exact opposite. Is that really what the Spanish leadership wants to see?
And how would that reflect on Britain? We'd look like a bunch of spineless fools, who merrily handed over thousands of our compatriots to foreign rule against their will.
Anyway, here's some sound reasoning on the issue by the Economist from a while ago (can't find the link anymore):

IN PAST centuries, the rulers of Europe traded territories and their citizens like sheep. Gibraltar was one: by a treaty signed in Utrecht in 1713, the king of Spain-unwisely, but he did it-ceded the Rock to Britain. Though the British soon broke its terms, allowing, oh horror, Jews and "Moors" to live there, that treaty still stands. As for the now 28,000 Gibraltarians, today's British and Spanish governments seem to think that the princely disdain of 1713 stands with it. They are wrong.
Spaniards say their country has a "historic claim" to Gibraltar. The word is "claim"; history says they haven't a leg to stand on. Geography is little more help. Europe is dotted with spots- Greek islands next to Turkey, German and Italian enclaves in Switzerland, a Spanish one in France-which geography might allocate to other owners but law and common sense do not.
. . .
And that is the real scandal of this affair. The "problem" of Gibraltar is a Spanish invention. Spain's government has unleashed patriotic fervour over a bit of land lost three centuries ago for which it has no case in law and no practical need; and in rank defiance of the principle that people should, when possible, be governed as they choose. If Gibraltarians wanted joint sovereignty, or indeed to be Spanish, fine, let's do it at once. But they don't. Yet Britain's government has gone halfway along with the denial of democracy. Let it rediscover a spine, and Spain drop its claim, and there would be no Gibraltar affair. Some hope; but that's what both ought to do.

If you want to read anything else, I recommend John Keegan who makes many points I would otherwise have made, Simon Young having a poke at the Spanish position and this assessment by Thomas Grant detailing where the debate over Gibraltar sits in wider geopolitical questions; particularly interesting for any American readers.

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