Spanish police divers have clearly violated the Rock’s sovereignty. Madrid should concentrate on its terrible economic problems.
Spanish police have carried out a bizarre stunt in the sea surrounding Gibraltar. They released video footage this weekend of their divers apparently inspecting one of 70 concrete blocks that Gibraltar’s government has dropped into the water to create a reef. This clearly violated the Rock’s sovereignty and was an attempt to exercise jurisdiction over waters that belong to someone else. They even took time out of their police work to pose underwater with Spanish flags.
As international incidents go, this was tawdry and silly. But the impotence of the action – its pantomime-style attention seeking – reminds us of Spain’s shrill rediscovery of its claim over Gibraltar. The claim is, of course, a nonsense. Britain gained the Rock in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. In 1969, the UK made a commitment never to hand it over to anyone against the democratic wishes of the people living there. In 2002, that commitment was tested and kept when the locals held a referendum and voted by 98 per cent not to share sovereignty with Spain. Self-determination is a fundamental human right – and the Gibraltarians have made it plain that they wish to remain British.
Why then does Spain continue to agitate on this issue? The answer is surely its terrible economic problems. When its property boom ended in 2008, unemployment surged and the government was forced to find billions of euros in spending cuts and tax rises. Like Argentina in the early Eighties, it seems that Spain’s elite is trying to distract people from its failures by stoking up a little national pride. Unlike Argentina in that period, Spain is a stable democracy with a commitment to law, order and peaceful cohabitation with its neighbours – which makes its behaviour all the more odd.
And consider this hypocrisy: Spain still owns the Moroccan enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. It is very hard to take accusations of neocolonialism from a country that holds on to old imperial possessions. But then the rhetoric coming out of Madrid, like the diving stunt, is difficult to take seriously at all.