If you read the Daily Telegraph last Friday you would have found a report headlined: “Royal Navy used ‘Spanish flag’ for target practice off Gibraltar.” If you read on you would have found the navy did no such thing. I suspect there is still a “Johnny Foreigner” view at the Telegraph which has no place in the modern world.
If the Royal Navy had shot at the Spanish flag then those involved should have been booted out of the service. Put it another way – had the Guardia Civil used the Union flag for target practice in what they deem as the Bay of Algeciras how would Britons and the residents of Gibraltar felt? Outraged –and quite rightly so.
What happened was the crew of a Guardia Civil launch reported spotting the fast RN patrol boat Scimitar firing at “Spanish colours” during a military exercise in international waters off the Rock.
Britain’s new ambassador to Spain is Giles Paxman, the younger brother of the BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman. He was duly summoned to Spain’s foreign ministry to explain what had transpired. He insisted the flag on top of the buoy used in the target practice was not in fact a Spanish flag but a standard target flag that did use the red and yellow and he apologised for what he called a lack of judgement by the British navy.
In a statement the Spanish foreign ministry said: “The ambassador insisted that, however it may have appeared, it did not represent the flag of Spain.
“He presented his apologies for an error of judgement and the lack of sensibility shown and promised to launch an investigation and to take the necessary measures to ensure that incidents of this kind will not be repeated.”
The Ministry of Defence acknowledged the striking resemblance between the Spanish national flag and the signal marker chosen for the routine exercise that has two red horizontal stripes separated by yellow. The MOD explained: “HMS Scimitar was using Flag No1 during gunnery practice, traditionally chosen due to its high visibility. However we recognise its similarity to the Spanish national flag and will use an alternative marker during gunnery practice in this area in the future.”
The embarrassing incident happened at a sensitive time in Gibraltar’s waters which Spain claims as her own. The EU has given Spain jurisdiction over much of the area for environmental purposes due to a cock-up in Whitehall and Guardia Civil patrol boats often enter the area to test Gibraltar’s and Britain’s resolve.
(I have blogged numerous times on the territorial waters issue – two of my recent blogs appear below if you scroll down the page.)