The PSOE senator, José Carracao, has been speaking out again on Gibraltar. He does so as his party’s foreign affairs spokesman. As a former mayor of Jimena and president of the association of town halls of the Campo de Gibraltar, it is a subject he feels some confidence in tackling.
Of course I cannot view Carracao’s statements as a Spaniard – although Spain is my home, nor as a Gibraltarian – although I have written a weekly column about the Rock for 15 years. My opinions have to be as a Briton and hence it leaves me some what uncomfortable.
First he states that Britain’s interest in Gibraltar is purely military. Here I have to agree. Britain took the Rock in a military assault in 1703 and it was under the later Treaty of Utrecht that Spain ceded Gibraltar to what is now the UK in perpetuity. It is only in very recent years that the Governor of Gibraltar has ceased to be a military commander and the Rock has basically been a military fiefdom with little British interest in the rights of the native Gibraltarians. Indeed it is only now that the Rock has been freed from its colonial status, although views differ on that.
The importance of the Rock as a military base has decreased over the years but suddenly becomes strategic again when an emergency breaks out from Argentina to the Near East. However it did not stop British Premier Tony Blair along with his then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw seeking to do a deal with Spain by forcing the Rock to accept joint sovereignty. Certainly the opposition of Gibraltarians carried some weight but the real clincher was the Ministry of Defence that would not accept its bases being under a joint flag – and one has to wonder what input the USA made on this issue given that its nuclear subs and warships are frequent visitors.
Britain wants normal relations with Spain in the EU and is frustrated by the Gibraltar problem constantly rearing its head. If it hadn’t been for the military importance of the Rock the British Government would like to dump Gibraltar like a shot and to hell with its 30,000 inhabitants.
Although there is much song and dance about Princess Anne visiting Gibraltar this week, she was also there in 2003; the Queen and the Duke have stayed well clear. This is a British colony but there is simply no way its monarch would visit or rather be allowed to – compare that with the actions of the Spanish Royal Family who frequently visit Ceuta and Melilla and cock a snoot at the anger of Morocco.
Carracao then goes on to say that he believes Britain is acting cynically in defending Gibraltar’s right to self-determination when it handed over six million Hong Kong residents to China in 1997 and moved 3,000 people forcible from Diego García in 1972.
On Hong Kong he is wrong because unlike Gibraltar where the Treaty of Utrecht gives the Rock to Britain in perpetuity the hold on Hong Kong was purely on a lease basis. The lease was up, so that was it. On Diego García Carracao is right – Britain behaved disgracefully towards its inhabitants, as it has towards the Ghurkhas and as it has in the past towards Gibraltarians and would again if the population wasn’t European and street wise enough to haul the British Government over some very hot coals.
It could be that Gibraltar’s long term future lies not with Britain or Spain but with Europe. The move in that direction will come from Gibraltar’s new wave of politicians who are waiting in the wings to take over in the coming years. However it was that wily old fox, the former chief minister and current leader of the GSLP, Joe Bossano who first pointed me in that direction. Several years ago he told me that he thought the long term future of Gibraltar might lay in a Europe in which Spain had divided on regional lines – the Basques, Catalans etc. As Joe Boss has indicated that he will step down sooner rather than later it will be left to his successors such as Fabian Picardo and the leader of the European looking Liberals, Dr Joseph Garcia, to tread that path.