The Sunday Telegraph
Spain’s vanity has led politicians to play with fire and they must learn its dangers
As I read of the efforts of our would-be masters in Brussels to use Gibraltar, like the fate of British people living and working in the 27 EU states, as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations, I become all the more sure that the people of this kingdom took the right decision in the referendum. There is something disgusting in the determination of the masters of the EU to contemplate any action to prevent our people from using the law of the EU itself to regain our historic right to govern ourselves.
It was in a argument with a senior EU official at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, when I was still a minister, that I was told that I did not understand how the EU worked. “We,” he said, “make the law. They – the people – have to obey the law. We do not have to obey the law because we are here to make it.” That was when I realised Ernie Bevin had been right about the EU and I had been wrong.
The status of Gibraltar was settled by the Treaty of Utrecht some 300 years ago when, in a complex series of provisions governing frontiers not only in Europe but in the Americas too, it was ceded in perpetuity by Spain to Britain. It is grimly fitting that at a time when Brussels is seeking to prevent the UK from exercising its lawful right under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the EU, it is also egging on the Spanish government to break the Treaty of Utrecht.
Lest we forget, Gibraltar is not a colony. It is a British Overseas Territory and 96 per cent of its 30,000 citizens voted recently in favour of staying that way. As with the Falkland Islands, which Argentina persists in calling the Malvinas, there should in a sane world be no possible argument against them remaining as they are.
Now the European Council has suggested that our Brexit arrangements “should not apply to Gibraltar without an agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the
‘Were I in No10 I would let it be known that I was thinking of inviting Catalan leaders to London, or even raising their desires at the UN’
UK”. That is, Article 50 would not be honoured unless we allow Spain to welch on the Treaty of Utrecht.
I can only guess this is yet another stunt from Brussels, desperately struggling to defy the decision of the British people to regain independence. The BBC reports that Spain lobbied for the inclusion of Gibraltar within the Council’s statement, and that would fit the EU’s objectives nicely: any excuse to make mischief and insert wholly inappropriate lost causes into the gears of Brexit. I imagine the Council was only too happy to include it.
But Gibraltar has an importance well beyond European politics. It controls the entrance to the Mediterranean and was able to deny entry to German warships during the Second World War, just as it could today deny passage to Russian warships of the Black Sea fleet. I doubt President Trump would see it as in the interests of the US for “the Rock” to fall out of British hands. Already the Trump administration is questioning for how long it can maintain its commitment to the Nato guarantee that an attack on any one member state would be regarded as an attack on all while only the Americans and British are willing to fulfil their commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. We might therefore not be without allies in this matter.
The UK can do without another long-standing dispute akin to that with Argentina over the Falklands, but it cannot let down the people of Gibraltar nor sacrifice a vital Western strategic interest. So this is no time for diplomatic niceties. Were I in No 10 I think I would let it be known in Madrid that I was thinking of inviting leaders of the Catalan independence movement to London, or even to raising their desire for independence at the United Nations. The Catalans are different from the Spanish. They are an outward-looking Atlanticist people who were trading with Cornwall and Wales a thousand years ago.
The Spanish government has to realise it is playing with fire. There is a strong German interest in keeping a secure and open trading regime with the UK, and Mrs Merkel has to be brought to put pressure on Madrid to understand this goal matters more to her than indulging in Spanish vanity over a treaty battle lost 300 years ago.