Gibraltar: It's Ours, and We're Keeping It
If justice were a more common habit, then Jack Straw would have been lynched on his recent visit to Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary would have been left dangling from the end of one of the colony's ornate lampposts, Barbary Apes gleefully swinging from his lifeless limbs, with some one iconic image winging its way round the world – oh, an ape wearing his sodding silly spectacles, something like that. Sadly this hasn't happened, and instead Mr Straw continues with his evil efforts to give Gibraltar and her people to Spain. We'll talk about that this week as it's nice [sic] to have an inanity of British foreign policy we can chat about that isn't ultimately America's fault.
What the British government is presently trying to do (and by the end of June at the latest) is agree with Madrid a Joint Declaration of Principles. This will be the usual muck about respecting the Gibraltarians' 'British way of life', all that sort of thing, but it will also, in one fashion or another begin the process of pooling sovereignty over the colony that is consciously intended to eventually lead to its ultimate reversion to Spain. And thereafter rest assured, no British government would behave towards Spain in possession of the rock as she has towards us. Whatever's agreed will, as constitutionally it has to be, be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum, and they'll vote against it. That however will make no difference to the Foreign Office, for what they will then have is a backstop - a position beyond which they in subsequent negotiations will never seek to advance. Thus, despite the inevitable popular rejection of the forthcoming Anglo-Spanish agreement, this sordid document will be represented by our own civil servants as the ne plus ultra of Britain's possible ambitions vis-à-vis Spain and her claims upon us.
Why, you might wonder, have we suddenly taken it upon ourselves to engage in such foolishness? Who knows – maybe it's the weather, maybe the head of the Spanish desk at the FCO was attacked by a pelican in St James's Park, haven't the slightest myself. What, perhaps, might put this in context is that it's exactly the sort of thing the Foreign Office are always trying to do, it's just that now, with Tony Blair and friends in power, they have an opportunity to start putting into practice some of the things the Tories stalled on. Though even that doesn't focus attention in on King Charles St – the home of the Foreign Office – quite closely enough. It's more that they have achieved so many of their historic objectives – you know, getting rid of Hong Kong, getting us into 'Europe' – that they can start moving onto their secondary and tertiary goals. In many ways the FCO is a model of resolution, like any cultish outfit, they have weird, implacable purposes, which, no matter how smooth a face they show to a world unconvinced anyone could be as morally degraded as the Foreign Office evidently is, they'll pursue world without end. Eventually their real foes, British politicians, give in and another little notch is struck.
Of course, there's always a surface explanation: for the surrender of Gibraltar it's that, somehow, if we did this the Spanish would just hug us to bits, and be our best friends ever in the next EU Inter Governmental Conference (which like all IGCs is always, to the FCO and its tame press, the crucial IGC). This, obviously, is palpable nonsense: the IGC doesn't matter a bucket of warm spit, and, what on earth does anyone think the Spanish will, let alone can, do for us, that they won't anyway, in their own interest, do as things currently stand? The childishly false rhetoric of FCO advocates of the betrayal of Gibraltar is that, sans the surrender, there's stuff the Spanish would do – presumably in their own interest – at the IGC that they now won't, in a sort of, 'Sí, I will cut off my nose to spite my face' way. Alternatively (and you'll spot the contradiction for yourself) . . . the reason adduced is that, if we did give them Gibraltar, then they'll roll on their tummies, addled with joy, and do things they otherwise wouldn't dream of doing (these unspecified things being, presumably, not that much in their interest, and hence stand out concessions that we could measure against our own, except we've no idea what they might potentially be).
Not a single aspect of this stratagem makes any sense – even if there was something the Spanish could do by us, that they weren't going to do anyway, if we seriously believed that Gibraltar's surrender was the way to achieve this, then we'd give it to them after they had delivered. We being the ones with something they want.
No, what's happening in Gibraltar boils down to one of two things, or possibly, if you subscribe to complex explanations, two of two things: one, it could be that the self-hating bunch of ponces currently governing Britain hate Gibraltar with a passion because she stands for every trad virtue they despise, or, two, it could, more simply, be the ongoing ineptitude of British foreign policy in action. The March edition of the European Journal gives a lot of space to the first interpretation, so you can go and read it when they post it. Just to take a time out – this is the last issue under the excellent editorship of Allister Heath, who's off to the real world, well, as real as anything involving Andrew Neill gets, in his new capacity as economics correspondent of The Business. It's largely thanks to Allister (and John Laughland) that, in the European Foundation (which although it sounds like an outfit even Pat Buchanan would quail at being involved with, is actually an A1 thing), there was a semi-respectable right wing think tank that has actually done some useful stuff since '97. Anyway, back to Gibraltar and explanation number two: this is the FCO being witless as per normal.
Let's review how Spain (dictatorship until 1975, not that I'm having a go at Franco) came to be a member of the EEC in 1986. A huge hurdle was British impatience with her petty and obstructive treatment of Gibraltar, especially as regards transport links between the rock and Spain. Thus, the government of Mrs Thatcher made British consent for Spanish accession to the EEC conditional on their, to use an Ulsterism, 'wising up'. Unfortunately, the then Foreign Secretary, the truly dire Geoffrey Howe allowed Spain to wriggle off the hook as soon as she was in, and ever since she has upped her hysterical pressure on the colony. As irrefutable proof of collective Spanish insanity one has only to look across the straits of Gibraltar (well, you have to look quite hard) to Morocco. She has a great beef with the Spanish, namely two long-time colonial dependencies, Ceuta and Melilla, which they would quite like 'back'. Nothing doing is the admirably consistent response from Madrid, which won't even enter into talks about their future.
The list of absurd things pace the EU that the Spanish try to inflict upon Gibraltar - which obviously isn't the cleverest hearts and minds policy ever adopted – stands in contrast with the way her own colonies are treated. Since accession in '86 these have been integral parts of the Community, reasonably enough as they are treated by Spain more as overseas parts of the metropole than colonies per se. Their inhabitants are represented in the Cortes, much as French colonies vote for members of the National Assembly, and in presidential contests. This is a road, other than Malta briefly being a part of the United Kingdom in the 50s, that we have never gone down. Some people advocate it now, as a bulwark for Gibraltar, but this is to accept the Spanish threat at face value. Since the threat is nonsensical, a fairy phantom, cold indifference would see it off, and even doing something as otherwise unexceptionable as integrating Gibraltar into the UK, and giving her an MP, represents unnecessary, forced constitutional change, as well as a departure from our historic practice.
Why we should hold onto Gibraltar is an argument for another day, but the important thing to remember in relation to Spain's revisionism is that we don't have to make a case for it; we have her. No matter how awful your own local take on conservatism becomes, the utter banality of progressive thought, and why you really shouldn't want these men ruling over you a second longer than they must, is summed up in the moronic mindset Jack Straw now genuinely subscribes to over this matter: 'I do not believe the status quo is a realistic option for Gibraltar. As long as a dispute with Spain lingers on, there can be no certainty for long term prosperity'. This isn't, I'm convinced of it, a surface text hiding some deeper reason for doing in Gibraltar, this honest-to-God is why the Foreign Secretary thinks he has to chuck away, for nothing, a British asset (as well as 30,000 British subjects).
To reiterate some familiar themes, if we descend to the level of debating with the other chap – and never lose sight of the fact that here, as in so many other cases, we don't have to: the Spanish case is fatuous, and they, being weaker, can't oblige us to treat with them – we're only going to start mouthing silly arguments that will tie us up in knots at some later point. Take self-determination – always used by British protagonists of the rock, sensibly enough given that in the last 'Spanish or British' vote in '67, the figures were, British, please: 12, 138, other lot: 44. Yet, who cares what the inhabitants of the rock think? If they thought they were Spanish, this would neither make them Spanish nor would it be any decent reason to give the place to Spain. Enoch Powell, in his speeches in Parliament over the Falklands war always explicitly rejected the Thatcherite appeal to bogus UN Covenants on Human Rights (larded with Soviet Bloc signatories), and Wilsonian notions of self-determination. He pointed out that it was, for all the modish contradiction of this truth, the islands that were British, and that the views of the inhabitants, though congenial, were distinctly secondary to the principle (and practical expediency of upholding the honour of the state) of sovereignty being overwritten by the Argentine invasion.
Some other day we can come back to the simple conservative lesson, nationalism = pernicious, but for now, let's be honest about Gibraltar. The place is a bit of a dump (tourists rarely go back), the home government did take a bit too long to stamp on the endemic smuggling industry, and a Tory conception of the national interest, which certainly wouldn't provide for us leaving, equally wouldn't have us staying on the rather wet grounds that the people happened to want us to. Dumb, unexplained precedent should keep us there, what we do with the place is another matter entirely. The cousins, apparently, don't want us to leave, as they don't think the Spanish would be quite such a loyal ally in military terms, which is a bit hard on Madrid's pretty slavish posture, but we'll let that pass. The foreign policy question for Tories is that, since obviously we should stay, there being no case for leaving, and the status quo being as firm and attractive as ever: what should Gibraltar be for? Clearly some military end, but that takes us back against the stream to what our foreign policy should be. No matter how that debate resolves itself, there can be no doubt, if you're right wing, the rock's an asset, and that her enemies are asses.
PS: Last week I said I'd report back on the pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Sq: slightly smaller, I'd have said (though still impressively large) than the pro-Palestinian one, and naturally in receipt of far more press coverage. Not that there wasn't whining about it being under-reported. Another difference between the two demos was that the latter was far more obviously British in character and attendance - though why a foreign politician in the shape of Bibi was up there on the platform is one for the organisers to answer. Why mention this? Just that rallies on foreign policy achieve nothing, if you want to change your foreign policy, change your permanent officials, and before them, your historians.
PPS: Do me a favour: I've ended up as publisher of a British 'LewRockwell meets antiwar.com' webzine. We haven't properly launched yet (that's on June 5th) but have a look and tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org – thanks.
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