I have written here oft times before about the confrontations in Gibraltar’s waters between the Guardia Civil on one hand and the Royal Gibraltar Police - Royal Navy patrols on the other. Yesterday Gibraltar’s GSLP – Liberal Opposition issued the following statement which highlighted comments made to the Spanish daily “El Mundo” by a Guardia Civil officer. First the key parts of the statement:
“The Opposition is concerned at the fact that, according to the Spanish Guardia Civil, their patrol boats are now challenging British sovereignty and jurisdiction in the territorial waters of Gibraltar practically on a daily basis. It is obvious that despite the professions of friendship and cooperation that we continue to hear so much about, the Spanish Government continues to increase the tension in the waters that surround Gibraltar.
“A Spanish Civil Guard has told the newspaper “El Mundo” that one of these days something very serious is going to happen in the waters around Gibraltar. They have also revealed that incidents between the Civil Guard and the Royal Navy or the Royal Gibraltar Police are now happening “on a daily basis”. The Civil Guard claim that since the summer they have been harassed by British patrol boats within the three-mile limit around the Rock which “they consider to be their area of influence”. The Civil Guard have repeated the well-known position of the Spanish Government that Gibraltar has no waters on the basis that none were explicitly ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht except those inside the Port.
“The Opposition consider that it is the height of hypocrisy for the Civil Guard to claim that they are being the victims of harassment when everyone knows that it is they who have been harassing and intimidating local boat owners in waters which are outside Spain’s jurisdiction. The Civil Guard have in the past stopped, questioned and requested papers from the occupants of Gibraltar registered boats barely a few metres from the Rock and well inside the three-mile limit. In fact, this harassment on their part led the Gibraltar Government at the time to call on boat owners to set off a flare gun or call the Royal Gibraltar Police when they were challenged in this manner.
“It is clear that there is an orchestrated campaign on the part of the Spanish Government and its agencies to undermine the sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. This was seen last year when the Spanish proposed a designation of our waters as if they belonged to Spain in an EU directive. The acceptance of this by the EU then had an immediate, practical effect in the waters around the Rock. It was followed by an incursion by a Spanish navy fisheries protection vessel in May this year and by frequent incursions by Civil Guard patrol boats who continue to behave as if our waters belonged to them.”
The report in the centre right “El Mundo” comes from an unattributed Guardia Civil source. Hence it could be fact or fiction destined for home consumption to strengthen the snipping from the Partido Popular who accuse the government on going soft on the Rock.
It also has to be said that neither the Royal Gibraltar Police, Royal Navy, Gibraltar nor British Government have publicly spoken about these daily confrontations in Gibraltar’s waters. This doesn’t mean to say they do not happen – just that there has been no comment from Gibraltarian or British sources. Indeed on the few occasions when Spain has put its toe in to Gibraltar’s internationally recognized waters it has pulled it out promptly and left the scene peacefully when confronted by the RGP or RN patrols.
However if “something serious did happen” it would escalate the dispute into a major incident. If the armed Guardia Civil tangled with the RGP or Royal Navy patrols it would be a confrontation between Spain and Britain. In addition it has to be remembered that the Rock’s port is a NATO facility hence British Royal Navy warships plus those from the USA frequently visit as do nuclear submarines. It would be all too easy for them to be caught up in the pistol fire.
I am a firm supporter of the Córdoba Agreement and I certainly believe that jaw-jaw beats war-war. For its part this Spanish Government has invested much time and effort in seeking to build bridges with the Llanitos. If that bridge collapsed it would leave its policy towards Gibraltar in disarray. None-the-less these discussions can only continue if Spain respects Gibraltar’s institutions and boundaries. If it chooses not to then Britain should call Spain’s bluff and suspend the process until it does. And if it doesn’t…