The spiky old issue of Gibraltar is digging Spanish and British statesmen in the most tender part of their well-fed anatomies – what to do with Gibraltar? Ever since the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 (very nearly three hundred years ago), the two puissant old ladies have been scratching at each other’s eyes because of Gibraltar.
Utrecht ended the War of the Spanish Succession (q.v.), unfairly for Spain because English and French representatives met at the Congress without Austrian or Spanish representation. Philip V remained King of Spain but had to renounce his claim to the French throne. He also lost Spain’s European empire – Southern Netherlands, Milan, Naples, Sardinia, Gibraltar and Minorca (the last two were awarded to Britain, but Spain got the island back later). Britainwas also given the right to trade in slaves with Spanish possessions in the Americas. The Treaty ensured that France was still a great power, and at the same time considerably weakened Spain, which had come badly out of the War of Succession. The Treaty was lousy and full of holes, but it was signed and became a part of international Law.
Recently, the Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St. James has been saying provocative things; he is summoned to the appropriate House of Commons committee to explain himself. This is going much further than the trading of insults off Gibraltar between Spanish fishermen and sailors in the Royal Navy. General Franco did not know what to do so he closed all the frontiers between the Rock and thePeninsula. Britain insulted Spainin 1985 by not sending the Queen to a gathering of all European royalty in theCanary Islands– the inauguration of enormously important telescopes. No less than five reigning monarchs came with their suites, but Britain was rude enough to send the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester as ‘representatives’. The king and queen of Spain did not attend the wedding of Charles and Diana, nor did the king go to the London Olympics.Spain has asked Gibraltar (a self-governing protectorate) not to entertain British nuclear submarines in the harbour, but the Navy constantly sends these deadly ships for repair at Gibraltar’s docks.
What is to be done? The people of Gibraltar want independence but they do not want to be Spanish. Spain considers that three hundred years of Britain’s occupation of a piece of Spanish territory is quite enough thank you, and that Gib. should be handed back. The Royal Navy claims that Gib. is essential because of its strategic position. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour know what to do, though it is rumoured that they, like everybody else, are fed up to the back teeth with the whole issue and would like to see it solved.
Here is my modest proposal:
First, the wishes, needs and desires of the people of Gibraltar cannot just be ignored, by either side. Transport all those who do not want to come under Spanish authority to the Falkland Islands, where the population (of humans) is sparse indeed. They will find the Falklands, also known as the Malvinas, much colder than the Rock, but there is plenty of room, and they will not miss being the centre of attention, because Argentina’s lady President continuously claims the Islands as hers.
Second, Spain can maintain Gibraltar’s status as a tax haven, just as China did with Hong Kong. Spanish billionaires can therefore hide their money in Gibraltar. Russian and Asian oligarchs will have to find another haven – the Bahamas perhaps, or one of those ex-Soviet istan republics that made such a crowd of the USSR.
Third, the Royal Navy, or what is left of it after dramatic cuts during the last fifty years, can do a deal with Morocco when she gets Ceuta and Melilla back, which is inevitable. These two Spanish possessions in a foreign country will make excellent bases for submarine repair. If the Spanish citizens of Ceuta and Melilla object, they can go to the Malvinas too.
Of course, readers in Gibraltar will not approve of the modest proposal, but it is at least a proposal, even if it is a Joke. No-one else seems to have the remotest idea of what to do, except make monotonous and offensive remarks which in themselves do not do much good. Spain and Britain could at least send delegations to a neutral spot somewhere, and promise not to unlock the doors until the statesmen have come up with a proposal acceptable to both sides, not forgetting the people of Gibraltar, who have British passports. Perhaps Utrecht could offer itself as host to such a Congress; an appropriate one too.