I visited Gibraltar once in my life – in 1996 – during a fortnightly group roundtrip in a minivan in Spain. This roundtrip led us through the magnificent Spanish province of Andalucia and one day we visited indeed the most British part of Europe, located east of Dover.
I remember the beautiful view on the top of the mountain, the funny and energetic berber monkeys, the wonderful weather and the horrible British food – Shepherd’s Pie with overcooked carrots and greenpeas drowned in gravy – which I suspect until this day gave our whole group a food poisoning that lasted for a minimum of two days for the lucky ones and among others much, much longer. But, to be frank, it could also be a fish dish in Spain itself, that caused our group’s discomfort.
And of course I remember how utterly British Gibraltar was, as a kind of open air museum crafted after the picture-perfect, proverbially British city that didn’t exist in reality. With red telephone booths, pubs, souvenir shops, restaurants featuring British ‘cuisine’ and other typically British paraphernalia for both tourists and anglophiles.
Now, twenty-odd years later, the same peninsula of Gibraltar is the subject of heavy, vocal sabre-rattling by both the Spaniards and the Britons.
Hardly the British government and diplomats delivered their Article 50-letter, effectuating the Brexit as a process, or the Spanish government smuggled a Gibraltar paragraph in the EU draft agreement that was the starting point for the orderly Brexit negotiations. The New York Times described the matter in the following snippets:
After it became clear Friday that the union’s remaining leaders might give Spain an effective veto over whether any deal applied to Gibraltar — a British territory long the subject of an acrimonious sovereignty dispute between London and Madrid — lawmakers in Britain and Gibraltar responded with defiance and concern.
Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, made his anger clear on Friday, calling Spain’s tactic “disgraceful” and “predatory.” He said in a statement about the insertion of language on Gibraltar into the European Union’s draft guidelines for negotiating a British withdrawal: “This unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable discriminatory proposed singling out of Gibraltar and its people was the predictable machination of Spain.”
In Gibraltar, which has a clear frontier with Spain, the fear is different. It is that once Britain is outside the European Union, which guarantees free movement of people, Spain could demand concessions or make the border with Gibraltar harder to cross, effectively isolating the territory.
Although the mounting emotions about Gibraltar are perhaps understandable with both the Spain and British views and background in mind, the Spanish action – to make the negotiations with the UK an effective hostage of the future British plans for Gibraltar – was not so sensible from a political point of view. Especially as Spain itself has two exclaves – Ceuta and Melilla – on Moroccon soil; two exclaves which Spain is not likely to abandon soon.
On top of that, the situation around Gibraltar never stopped both the Spaniards and Britons from actively working together for 40 years within the European Union and its predecessors. And it also never stopped the British elderly from spending their finest years in Spanish holiday resorts and second houses, at the same time that their youngsters spent their holiday money in Spanish discotheques and pubs, while drinking (much too much) Spanish beer, wine and cocktails.
So the question is valid “what the fuzz is all about”?!
And while the Spanish action was already quite erratic to these eyes, the British reaction – especially represented by former minister and current Tory official Lord Michael Howard, as well as a few warmongering British newspapers – was straightforwardly bananas, as the following snippets from the Guardian show:
Theresa May would be prepared to go to war to protect Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher once did for the Falklands, former Conservative leader Michael Howard has suggested, in comments that were immediately criticised as inflammatory.
Lord Howard’s suggestion that the prime minister would be ready to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor 35 years ago came alongside a government pledge to protect the sovereignty of Britain’s overseas territory.
Downing Street said May had called Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, on Sunday morning to say the UK remained “steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy”.
Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, also used robust language. “We’re going to look after Gibraltar. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar ,” he said.
|The highly provocative picture of a British aircraft |
carrier at full steam in the British Telegraph newspaper
Picture courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk
Click to enlarge
And the Telegraph put things in overdrive, with a picture of a British war vessel and the following bragging lines about the British military strenght in a possible war with Spain:
Britain's Royal Navy is substantially weaker than it was during the Falklands War but could still "cripple" Spain, military experts have said.
Rear-Adml Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability at the Ministry of Defence, has called on the Government to "appropriately" invest in Britain's military capacity if it wants to "talk big" over Gibraltar.
It came as a former Tory leader suggested that Theresa May would go to war with Spain to defend the sovereignty of the peninsular just as Margaret Thatcher did with the Falklands.
Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom quickly downplayed the situation in the media, reputedly by “laughing off the Spain war talk”, but the tone was definitely set.
As this incident shows, a toxic combination of aggrieved pride and an inferiority complex, as well as unhealthy nationalism and an uncertain future under influence of arguably the biggest and most uncertain, economic step in recent British history, could quickly lead to mounting anger and dangerous envy among the British population. And this by itself could lead to irreversible steps on the path towards war: hence the Falklands war, with its massive bloodshed and skyrocketing emotions about a few dry and almost deserted islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.
By focusing on a mutual enemy – Spain in this case – the British officials can distract the attention from the mounting political and economic uncertainty and the quite unfavourable outlook, emerging from the inconsiderate, to these eyes even reckless Brexit that the United Kingdom entered into.
The promise of a war against a ‘vicious enemy’, who threatens a country’s social, economic and political interests, is a catalyst for exploding nationalism and national pride. It will probably lead to a population that stands behind the government as one man, more than willing to chew through a dozen economic, sour apples on behalf of the greater good and the national interests being at stake. That is the reason that I am not absolutely sure that the situation between the United Kingdom and Spain will not escalate further, before coming to a timely end (or not).
Is the current British escalation strategy a dangerous strategy? It is very dangerous!
Is it effective? Oh yes, it is very effective for domestic purposes, as it overcomes political differences within the population and leads to ‘one people united against the enemy’!
And might the British government – perhaps with Lord Howard as a straw man – have deliberately (ab)used this Gibraltar crisis as a powerful weapon of government mass deception and nationalist demagoguery?!
Well, to answer that question I gladly turn to what Sir Francis Urquhart, the main political vilain from the (far superior) British ‘House of Cards’, would have stated in this situation: “You might very well think that! I could not possibly comment!”