After Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 there entered a period of quiet that was known as the phoney war. I stress I know this from my parents and reports of the time and not personal experience.
Well there is a type of phoney confrontation rather than war going on presently between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar. It involves the Guardia Civil who on a regular basis send in patrol boats to the Rock’s waters where they are duly met by the Royal Gibraltar Police and Gibraltar Squadron. They are then asked to leave which to date they have. However if on a future occasion they refuse the RGP would attempt to arrest the boat and crew which would result in a major diplomatic incident.
I should explain here that under the Treaty of Utrecht by which Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity the only rights given regarding the waters were those of the then harbour. Under international law Gibraltar currently holds a three mile limit and could extend that to twelve miles but Britain has not followed that course. Spain still maintains that Gibraltar has no waters except those of the harbour.
So now we have the phoney war or confrontation because by and large the Spanish, British and Gibraltarian governments are saying nowt. It is left to the GSLP – Liberal opposition in Gibraltar and the opposition Partido Popular in Spain to fight a verbal battle. However make no mistake the Guardia Civil is only in Gibraltar’s waters because the government in Madrid has given it the nod – it does not act on its own accord or take its orders from the Partido Popular.
So what does Gibraltar’s opposition think of all this? Liberal Party leader and coalition deputy leader Dr Joseph Garcia explained: “The opposition condemn the fact that the Spanish Civil Guard continues to operate in Gibraltar waters as if these belonged to Spain. This follows another recent incident where the Civil Guard requested documentation from persons on a boat off Europa Point. In this case, the Guardia Civil were expelled from the area by the RGP and the Royal Navy.
Garcia believes: “This latest incident confirms that Spain has moved from a position where they were content to claim that our waters were Spanish to a more aggressive position where they now continue to act and behave as if the waters belong to them.
He continued: “It will be recalled that on a proposal from Madrid, the European Commission designated Gibraltar’s territorial waters and adjacent international sea as if they were Spanish in an environmental directive at the end of last year. A few months later Spain proceeded to exercise powers in the area with the arrival of the corvette “Tarifa”, a fisheries protection vessel. The vessel lowered a RIB which proceeded to question fishing boats going about their business. The RIB refused to leave when asked to do so by the Royal Navy.
“More recently, there have also been several reports of over-flights by an aircraft belonging to Spain’s environmental agency. This aircraft has not answered to calls from Gibraltar air traffic control even when civil aircraft have been approaching the area.
“At the same time as this, the Spanish Civil Guard have been reported increasingly close to Gibraltar, including in Catalan Bay and Eastern Beach, questioning fishermen and others on boats and requesting their documentation. It will be recalled that the Gibraltar Government at the time advised anyone who was stopped in this way inside Gibraltar waters to let off a flare gun or call the RGP.”
And what about the intervention of the Partido Popular? The opposition sees it as adding insult to injury. Garcia said: “In the context of this continuing harassment by Spain and the constant challenges to our waters and our airspace, the call by Partido Popular MP Jose Ignacio Landaluce for Madrid to take action against Gibraltar following the recent expulsion of the Civil Guard patrol boat only serves to add insult to injury. The PP has described the expulsion as an act of provocation which Spain cannot tolerate any longer.”
“The Opposition considers that the only act of provocation that exists in the first place is the continuing presence of the Spanish authorities inside the waters of Gibraltar, where they have no jurisdiction. The pertinent Gibraltar authorities must ensure that the sovereignty and integrity of British Gibraltar territorial waters is adequately upheld and defended at all times in the face of the aggressive campaign which Spain has embarked upon over the last few months.”
Of course this tension has built up with a socialist government in Madrid that is meant to prefer jaw-jaw to war-war. However if at the next election PSOE is ousted by the Partido Popular then we can expect the ante in the waters around Gibraltar to be upped and it could become very hot indeed.
Mind you it is easy to shout from the opposition benches and a different kettle of fish when you are in government and Anglo-Spanish relations are at stake. What is without a doubt is that a Partido Popular government will take a stronger line over Gibraltar but it could be argued that its approach might be preferable to a PSOE government that says one thing and does another.
(Photo: Guardia Civil).