The news and facts have only started to trickle through in recent days but on Good Friday the Royal Navy patrol boat, HMS Sabre, ordered a Spanish Guardia Civil launch out of Gibraltar waters. According to the Ministry of Defence the Spanish vessel was 200 metres from the buoy in the bay on the Western approach to the airfield. They were asked what their intentions were, and when no reply was forthcoming, they were requested to leave. There have been Spanish claims that HMS Sabre had its guns aimed at the Guardia Civil launch. This is denied by British Forces but it is accepted that HMS Sabre had its guns manned “as is standard practice” when the incident took place.
Although this incident will probably be soon glossed over it does highlight an aspect of the Gibraltar problem for the Spanish. Under the Treaty of Utrecht signed in 1713 at the end of the Spanish War of Succession Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in perpetuity. However the Gibraltar of 1713 and today is vastly different.
For instance to this day Spain insists that Gibraltar has no waters other than those of its harbour. Rubbish says Gibraltar and Britain. Under International Agreements the Rock claims a three mile limit of territorial waters and that could be extended to 12. Also the specific land area of Gibraltar has grown. The land on which the airport stands is reclaimed and disputed as it is outside the boundary designated in the treaty.
When you ready the treaty you can see Spain’s point: “The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.”
However there are other aspects of the treaty that would simply be laughed out of court in this modern day. For example: “And Her Britannic Majesty, at the request of the Catholic King, does consent and agree, that no leave shall be given under any pretence whatsoever, either to Jews or Moors, to reside or have their dwellings in the said town of Gibraltar.” Of course in the present day there is a strong Jewish community in Gibraltar that plays a major role in the life of the Rock. Moroccans (Moors) also contribute to the economy of Gibraltar having replaced Spanish workers when the border was closed in 1969. So should Spain demand that they leave?
Over the years I have received correspondence from many people arguing for the scrapping of the Treaty of Utrecht. I know too that there are politicians on the Rock who believe the treaty could be challenged in the courts.
Being a mere hack myself and not a legal eagle this seems to me to be a risky course to follow. The whole basis of Britain’s hold on the Rock is based on the treaty and if you take that away – where are you – in uncharted waters like a Guardia Civil patrol boat. None-the-less if there is to be a modern agreement on Gibraltar between the people of the Rock, Britain and Spain then I agree it has to be based on an accord of and for these times and not a treaty that has long been discarded and discredited except in the corridors of power in London and Madrid.