Before the official signing of Mrs May's attempt at 'peace for our time' (Swift, 2018a), the Spanish government decided to throw an unwelcome spanner into the Brexit negotiations by stating that it would scupper any Brexit deal that did not include 'concessions' from the UK over the status of Gibraltar.
Unfortunately, as if in confirmation of supposed stereotypes, the Spanish intervention arrived too late. Although mischief makers in Brussels have long been prodding the government in Madrid to try to derail (or at least delay) Brexit by clouding the process with the 'Gibraltar issue', Mrs May's 'scrap of paper' (Swift, 2018a), largely gives the EU exactly what it wants which explains the indecent haste and smiles which accompanied the signing last Sunday.
Basically, the terms and conditions meant that the UK would still be tied to the EU for an indeterminate period of time. One could almost hear the (French) champagne corks popping in Brussels in celebration. 'Great!' Thought Barnier… 'Now we've got them! Quick where's the pen?' Public complaints from member states that the EU had 'given away' too much were only to be expected – doubtless part of a carefully orchestrated plan to make the UK feel that it had negotiated a good deal while President Donald Trump pointed out: "Sounds like a great deal for the EU….Right now as the deal stands, they [the UK] may not be able to trade with the US….That would be a very big negative for the deal….I don't think they meant that, I don't think that the prime minister meant that, and hopefully she'll be able to do something about that."
Many UK MPs agreed. Michael Fabricant and former Trade Secretary Peter Lilley were both quoted in the Financial Times with Fabricant saying that Trump was 'spot on', whilst Lilley commented that it was "…a superb deal for the EU which will be able to offer their trade partners access to the UK market in return for privileges for EU exporters. And we are paying £39bn for this" (Fleming and Pickard, 2018).
It was just before the signing that Madrid chose to make a highly unwelcome intervention, perhaps not realising that, far from wanting further barriers to progress, Brussels now required everyone to be 'on message' and agree with all speed before the deal could be examined in forensic detail by the UK press and politicians. Just as in the old Two Ronnies television sketch in which the quiz contestant answers the previous (rather than the current) question, the Spanish appeared to be one step behind the latest machinations from Brussels. On previous occasions, Spanish intervention would have been welcome as it could have helped prolong the Brexit process, complicate the negotiations, and add another dimension to UK woes. However, now that the EU has wrested just about everything it wants from the UK, the Spanish with their complaints over Gibraltar are more of a hindrance than a help.
Perhaps even more confusingly for the Spanish, following 29th March 2019, they may be asked to revert to type once more, and raise the 'Gibraltar Issue' as a means of prolonging talks on the precise detail of future EU-UK trading arrangements. Even were the current deal to be passed in the House of Commons (a highly unlikely scenario), there still needs to be a period of transition (apparently up to December 2020) during which arrangements can be concluded. As with most of these so-called negotiations, it suits Brussels to drag things out for as long as possible – the longer it takes, the longer we remain tied to the Customs Union, which in turn means we will be unable to strike new trade deals on a bilateral basis – a key aim of the whole Brexit process! The preferable alternative – leave now without an agreement – is also likely to involve Gibraltar, as Brussels would once more seek to pressurise the UK by a variety of means, one of which will undoubtedly be Gibraltar. So, as we are very likely to see the issue of Gibraltar raised again regardless of the outcome of EU-UK talks, it is necessary to examine the issue in detail, and to look at some of the consequences of hostile moves by Madrid.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, ceded to the British by the Spanish in 1713 as part of the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. Since the early 18th century, Gibraltar has been almost constantly under siege from Spanish forces, as Spain demanded the return of this territory. Its value to Britain lay in its location at the entrance to the Mediterranean, and its port and dockyard facilities, and it was a strategically important base during the Peninsular War when the British, aided by Spanish irregulars, defeated French troops in Spain. Later, it served as an important naval port during the War of the Third Coalition when Admiral Nelson defeated combined French and Spanish naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar. It has played a key role in the maintenance of British naval power in the Mediterranean in both world wars, and latterly as an effective 'watch' on the Russian Black Sea Fleet as it entered and exited the Mediterranean.In addition to extensive dockyard facilities, Gibraltar has an airfield. The original RAF airfield which opened in 1939 has been modernised and is now only generally used by civilian airlines. There are also a myriad bomb-proof underground tunnels which housed important military installations during both world wars. Since the late 1960s, Gibraltar has focused on financial services, tourism, fishing and light industry.
Whilst Gibraltar used to be of considerable strategic importance, it is much less so nowadays. It is true that the Spanish feel they have a claim to Gibraltar which they have been pursuing (on and off) for around two hundred years causing annoyance and inconvenience to the citizens of both Gibraltar and Spain; the latter, mostly from the town of La Linea, cross the frontier on a daily basis to work in Gibraltar.
I travel to Spain regularly, and speaking to people, find degree of ambivalence: on the one hand, the 'recovery' of Gibraltar is a matter of national pride, similar to that which the UK has for the Falkland Islands and Argentina. The contrary argument I have heard is that it is really of no great importance in the 21st century as we are all part of the EU. I suspect that people who think that way are already under the spell of Jean-Claude Juncker's vision of a 'United States of Europe'. However, after 29th March 2019, the UK will no longer remain a member of the EU and this may increase nationalistic feelings towards Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has been used as a political 'football' by the Spanish since the end of WW2. The border was closed on orders of General Franco in 1969 and following his death in 1975, rather than use the opportunity for a new understanding with the Government of Gibraltar, the Spanish Government waited until 1982 to partially open the border, and then only to pedestrians. The border was only opened fully in 1985, some ten years after the death of Franco, suggesting that the closure had been supported by the Madrid government, even though in public they had tried to lay the blame at Franco's door. In the event, it was only opened as a consequence of diplomatic pressure by the UK Foreign Office after Spain applied to join the EU (of which the UK had been a member state since 1973) and it was suggested that Spain's application to join would be looked on favourably by the UK if the border between Gibraltar and Spain were to be re-opened. Even when it was eventually opened, Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez claimed that it had been opened on 'humanitarian' grounds (Vallejo, 2014).
According to an interview in the Spanish newspaper El País, the Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, said that Spain has "…no plans to close its border with Gibraltar after Britain leaves the European Union…" (Govan, 2017). However, such pronouncements should not be trusted as indicative of future Spanish foreign policy – a fact clearly understood by the Gibraltarians, who have never believed anything they hear from Madrid. Furthermore, it is not just the Gibraltarians who do not trust the Spanish government: a Pew Research Centre report from 2017 found that only 5% of Spanish respondents trusted their government "…to do what is right for the country…." (Wike et.al., 2017).
Spanish economic dissatisfaction has been high for at least four years, as reflected in a survey published in 2015 in which the average score for Spain (in terms of overall satisfaction with the standard of living) was 6.9 out of a possible 10 (CP, 2015). Since the Spanish local elections of 2015, there has been a rise in popularity for the anti-establishment (and by extension, anti-EU) party "Podemos" (Telegraph Reporter 2015).
Spanish trust in their government suffered yet another blow following Madrid's brutal suppression of the Catalan people's attempt to vote on independence in 2017, and the unwillingness of Brussels to condemn these actions has left an equally bad impression on the average Spanish citizen.After the Spanish government sent the Guardia Civil into Catalunya to prevent people voting, there were scenes of police violence – something one would not expect to see in a modern European democracy.
The general reaction from people with whom I have spoken (both Catalans and non-Catalans) has been that the Catalans 'were wrong to attempt independence, but equally wrong were the heavy-handed tactics employed by Madrid in an attempt to stop people voting.' I have also heard comments that likened the reaction from Madrid to one more reminiscent of a Franco-era response rather than that of a democratic government of the 21st century. It is also interesting to note that many Catalans (pro- remain or pro-leave) were highly critical of the EU's apparent lack of interest and involvement in what was, after all, an unwarranted attack on people who were trying to exercise their democratic rights.
If there were to be a 'hard' border between Gibraltar and Spain, in many respects it would not be too different to what periodically exists at the moment. The border has been closed on a number of occasions, generally in response to political disagreements with the UK, even when this is illegal as both countries were part of the EU. The Spanish closure in July 2013 (the height of the tourist season) was ostensibly a crackdown on smuggling, yet was patently designed to slow cross-border traffic at the worst period possible. The BBC (2013) noted that on "…Friday and Saturday, Spanish customs officers stopped thousands of vehicles trying to leave Gibraltar for Spain. On Sunday the delays switched to traffic trying to enter the British territory. There were delays of nearly six hours … in temperatures of 30C (86F). Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Spanish border officers were 'just trying to create a delay by pretending to search' vehicles… A Spanish government spokesman issued a statement that: "Spain is fulfilling its duties under European law to monitor its borders and to abide by rules set up to avoid the illegal traffic of illicit goods and prevent smuggling…." (BBC, 2013). Interestingly, the timing suggests that no smuggling took place at any other time of the year; only in July.
The Spanish continue to harass Gibraltar. The most recent incident was in 2017 when the Spanish authorities instructed police to implement considerably tighter border controls than usual. They took much longer than necessary to process travellers (both on foot and in vehicles), thus subjecting visitors, locals, and Spanish citizens alike to delays of up to two hours, waiting in very hot temperatures.
The Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Joseph Garcia complained that: "The latest action of Spain is obviously and clearly a response to the latest political climate. It is what they've always done but certainly it is totally and absolutely unacceptable." He went on to explain that the "… police officers deployed at the border, the Policía Nacional, are not the ones that are here normally. They don't quite understand how they need to conduct the checks at the border" (AFP, 2017). Obviously, these police had been brought in specially to cause long delays, either as a deliberate policy, and/or through their sheer incompetence and lack of experience. Garcia concluded that "Spain has used traffic jams as a political weapon against Gibraltar since the day the border opened."
Despite what might be said in public, the inhabitants of the Spanish regions near the frontier with Gibraltar need an open border as much the Gibraltarians. Gibraltar provides much employment for this corner of Spain, which, as a nation, is suffering one of the highest levels of EU youth unemployment. As the country with the second highest youth unemployment in the EU (44.4%, as compared with Greece at 47.3%) in 2016 (EUROSTAT, 2017), Spain has everything to gain and not much to lose by its continued membership of the EU. It can, after all, 'export' its unemployed youth to seek work abroad like to the UK, thus reducing the likelihood of social unrest and criticism of the government that inevitably follows high levels of unemployment.
Just as the EU fears a break-up of the EU, so too does Madrid - the concern beingCatalunya. For many years now, as a consequence of Spanish fears over Catalan independence, the Spanish government has been a fierce critic of Scottish independence followed by entry into the EU as a separate state since, as their logic goes, this would lead to similar calls for independence from the government of Catalunya. Spanish reaction to the Scots rejection of independence in 2014 was unequivocal: 'Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy today congratulated the Scots for having avoided the 'serious consequences' that would have come with an independence vote.' (Original Spanish: "Presidente del Gobierno español, Mariano Rajoy, felicitó hoy a los escoceses por evitar las "graves consecuencias" que habría conllevado la independencia - EFE, 2014). A message undoubtedly designed for Catalan, as much as Scottish ears.
Recently, however, Madrid appears to have done a volte face with regard to Scots independence. To add to the pressure on the UK, Madrid "…dropped its historic opposition to Scotland joining the EU as an independent country" (Rayner et.al., 2018:1).Doubtless at the instigation of Brussels, Madrid has fired a supporting shot in the long term EU strategy to break up the UK as another way of punishing us for voting to leave. The convoluted logic being that if they can assure the Scots that they would be welcome as an independent nation in the EU, then this might encourage Nicola Sturgeon to call another referendum on Scottish independence - despite the opposition to this by Scottish Conservatives (O'Leary, 2018).
The whole concept of leaving the UK to rejoin the EU is bizarre. One can understand the desire of some Scottish voters to achieve independence from what they see as 'control' from Westminster. But why would you then wish to exchange being controlled by an elected Government (which can be dismissed every four years or so), for control by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels? In Westminster, the Scots have 59 (out of 650) UK parliamentary seats allotted to them (just over 9% of the total). Currently there are 751 seats for MEPs out of which Scotland has 6. Based on current distribution, therefore, were an independent Scotland to be allowed back in to the EU and still retain its six seats, the Scots would have (numerically) less influence in European Parliamentary decisions than they currently enjoy at Westminster: 6 out of 751 gives them less than 1% of seats (actually 0.8%) as compared with 9% in Westminster. In other words, in purely numerical terms, they are currently better off in Westminster!
It will be interesting to see exactly how the EU reacts to future politico-economic developments in Spain. For as sure as night follows day, that country is of relatively little consequence to the EU in their master-plan for European integration, military co-operation, monetary union, and diplomatic representation. That being the case, I predict that Spain, along with Greece and Italy, will be among the next countries to attempt to leave the EU, or at least increase its opposition to EU diktats; the issues on which they are likely to confront Brussels being unemployment and illegal immigration.Furthermore, it is not simply a numbers game. As has become increasingly obvious over the last decade or so, the European Parliament merely provides the 'rubber stamp' with the real decisions relating to strategic direction of travel and operational policy made by the European Commission (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker). As Civil Servants, Commissioners are appointed not elected, have no budget-setting accountability and are very difficult (if not impossible) to dismiss. They are also highly secretive with regard to certain policy meetings which are not for public consumption. In 2017 a Dutch Parliamentary attorney accused the Commission of 'breaking EU laws' by placing restrictions on who can access various documents (Teffer, 2017) despite the EU's official website on 'Freedom of Information' which states that: "Under Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, citizens and residents of EU countries have a right of access to the documents of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. This means citizens can obtain documents held by the Commission and other institutions, including legislative information, official documents, historical archives and meeting minutes and agendas" (EC, 2018). Interestingly, this states that 'citizens can obtain documents', but does not say 'all' documents. Clearly someone is being economical with the truth. Undoubtedly, the EU hopes that as Scotland largely voted to stay in the EU as opposed to leaving (62% as opposed to 38%), many Scots might be more inclined to vote for independence in another Scottish referendum if they thought that they might be accepted into the EU as an independent nation. Were this achieved (in tandem with the EU's long-term desire to see Northern Ireland shackled to Brussels), the UK would be effectively destroyed. As I wrote in October of this year: "…the EU views the 'Irish Question' as a convenient way to attempt to split the UK, to keep 'negotiations' dragging out for longer, and to perhaps lead to the reunification of Ireland" (Swift, 2018b). Were this to happen, the strategy of the EU negotiators - only letting us leave the once we have been financially and politically crippled - would have been achieved. What both the EU and Madrid appear to have forgotten is that at the last referendum, Scotland voted by 2,001,926 to 1,617,989 (55% to 45%) to stay in the UK (BBC, 2014). Who knows what Madrid has been promised in return for its ability to turn on a peseta – sorry, Euro? Whatever they might have been offered in the future, they should be wary of offers from the EU, which, as has become obvious during the last two years, cannot be trusted. Even Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted that if things become serious "…we have to lie. The same applies to economic and monetary policy in the Union, I am very serious about it" (Pop, 2014). The EU will encourage the Spanish in their demands over Gibraltar for as long as it suits their case – once the UK has finally left (including the transition period) then Brussels will have no further use for Madrid, which it views more as a liability than an asset – due mainly to what is perceived as Spanish politico-economic instability, financial indebtedness, and very high levels of unemployment – all precursors of social unrest.
There is another reason why Madrid should tread carefully with regard to Spanish claims on Gibraltar: the Spanish enclaves in North Africa. For as long as the Spanish claim to Gibraltar rests on the fact that Gibraltar forms part of the Iberian landmass, and that it used to belong to Spain, the Spanish government can be accused of hypocrisy as it brings into focus the equally precarious situation of the two Spanish North African enclaves: Cueta and Melilla. It has been observed that, unlike Gibraltar which is classified as a 'non-self-governing territory' by the United Nations, and as such subject to 'de-colonisation', both Ceuta and Melilla are regarded as overseas territories of Spain – and confirmed in the "Espiritu de Barajas" (Spirit of Barajas') agreement signed between General Franco and King Hassan of Morocco in 1964. As they form part of the Moroccan landmass, and used to belong to Morocco, could there not be a similar argument for their return to Morocco?There is considerable pressure on Spain to return the provinces to Morocco: Moroccan media have identified what they refer to as Spanish 'hypocrisy' (Bennis, 2016), in insisting on their retention, whilst at the same time insisting the opposite for Gibraltar.
Thus, when examining the whole issue of the EU, Spain, and Gibraltar, we must start from the understanding that Brussels (and to a lesser extent, Madrid) is desperately afraid of the possibility that the EU will break up. The EU in particular fears a break up, as this would halt the (closet) momentum towards a Federal Europe, and threaten thousands of very well-paid positions and lucrative expenses. Were the EU to collapse, the Brussels gravy train would be well and truly derailed, and many people of very little talent would become unemployed. This is why they have tried to stop the UK leaving. It is also why they so approve of Mrs May's latest deal, since if it were to become law, then we would remain tied to the EU for an indeterminate period. This also explains why the EU is supportive of (or at least does not condemn) the Madrid government's heavy-handed tactics in trying to stop the Catalan referendum.Any break-up of Spain, could be the thin end of the 'exit' wedge, and encourage other countries with semi-autonomous states to follow a similar course of action. This would create chaos in the EU, at the very time that the Commission (the real power in the EU) is desperately trying to maintain internal control, through membership of the Euro, a European Army, and a European Diplomatic Service – the EEAS.
The longer we remain in this state of politico-economic limbo, the more likely it is that we will have to contribute yet more to Brussel's profligate expenditure, and be subject to EU judicial intervention. As a strong leave supporter who has consistently called for a 'hard' Brexit, we should reject May's botched negotiations and simply leave on 29th March 2019 – taking our £39 billion with us. Mrs May, however, has said that it was realistically the best deal we could have achieved. Note, she did not say that hers was a good deal! What, one might enquire, is the difference between the best on offer, and that which we wanted and voted for? As she has said on more than one occasion at the start of the process: "No deal is better than a bad deal." I agreed wholeheartedly Prime Minister. So, when are we leaving with 'no deal' because what you have agreed with the EU is patently a bad deal?
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