On the 7th October I wrote, "Gibraltar does not have enough power ... in the military sense to defend against any aggressive act from Spain ... My thoughts ... turn to the incursions by Spain into Gibraltar's territorial waters ... It seems to me that there is little that Gibraltar can do about these ... without full assistance in every regard from the UK." (see blog "The Bay, the Secretary of State at the FCO, the Governor and the Government"). Events in the last couple of days give full credence to this statement. It also highlight the limitations on what will be done and the extent of the role that will be played by the Royal Navy.
Credence because in his Ministerial Statement of the 14th October the announcement was made that a letter had gone from the Gibraltar Government to the Secretary of State, William Hague, asking for the UK's support and the deployment and intervention of the Royal Navy. Limitations because the reply from a Foreign Office spokesman has been "The Royal Navy is already present and their role is well defined already". How that role is defined is unknown to me. It seems, rightly and understandably, that aggressively defensive action is not on the cards.
"Rightly and understandably" because Gibraltar is no longer facing a Spain controlled by a fascist dictator. The UK and Gibraltar are dealing with a European democracy, a fellow member of the European Union and a NATO ally. There is absolutely no question that the UK can or should take any steps that could be interpreted as the UK adopting an aggressive stance against Spain. Deploying the Royal Navy, as requested by our Government, probably an irresponsibly move, is such an act. Issues between fellow members of the European Union and Nato are resolved through diplomatic channels and by mature discussion. The UK's stance is measured and correct and rebuffs the Gibraltar Government's request, which, if it had been heeded could have had unnecessary and detrimental repercussions on Gibraltar.
What this incident and its aftermath emphasizes is that the central issue for determination is the issue of sovereignty. The suspension of technical talks due within the trilateral process is of no great significance, although it is symbolic. What is of significance is that the thrust of the Trilateral process is not aimed at resolving the central issue of sovereignty. Talking about peripherals whilst that issue is ignored has little point. Talking about sovereignty is not within the realms of possibility simply because Gibraltar does not wants any change on that front.
What should be done? Well, there are some immutable facts. Spain, in direct conflict with the wishes of Gibraltar, maintains its claim to sovereignty. Neither Spain nor Gibraltar will shift on their respective positions in the foreseeable future. The position of both is so entrenched that there is absolutely no room for compromise. In this situation there is only one option for Gibraltar. Gibraltar must stoically and in a dignified manner defend its stated desire to remain British. The responsibility of Gibraltar's politicians is to continually monitor, analyze and assess this policy and ensure that it remains a policy that is in the best interests of Gibraltar. If this were to change or if it has changed it would be or is their responsibility to honestly tell the electorate and support their position with strong and persuasive argument. This is what leadership is about.
To defend itself stoically and in a dignified manner, Gibraltar must continue to act authoritatively, in the same manner as it has always acted, to exert its control over its British territorial waters. The relevant government agencies must continue to exert their authority over these waters. In the event that Spain engages in provocative acts, these must be dealt with in a controlled and sensible manner. Each incident will be different and each incident will need to be managed with care, which will place a huge responsibility on the individual on the ground. These individuals must be briefed fully on how to react. They must avoid acts that will lead to an escalation of any incident, no good will come of any heightening of tensions. We must be "British" about this.
Gibraltar will gain the high moral ground if it maintains its position in a peaceful and dignified manner. Maintaining the high moral ground will improve Gibraltar's diplomatic case. Maintaining the high moral ground will not undermine the fact and reality that the waters surrounding Gibraltar are British territorial waters. Spain's acts do not enhance their case one iota. Gibraltar's reaction to those acts may well do so in so much as attention is drawn to a non-issue (Spain's assertion). Non-issues have a habit of gaining a momentum of their own if they are exacerbated. Third party countries can become involved. We should remember that Gibraltar is important and big for us but to most third party countries we are but a nuisance, however unfair that opinion might be.
It also borders on the incautious to submit our case to an international court of law as has been suggested by the Government. Diplomatic problems between States should not be handed over to judges for resolution. However strong Gibraltar's case might be (and there is no doubt that Gibraltar's case is as strong as the Chief Minister says that it is), there are enough conflicting and competing principles in international law to enable judges to justify any conclusion they wish to. An international court has to take many factors into account. It may well come to a wrong conclusion. If it were to do so, Gibraltar would find that it is not in a good place.
International disputes are resolved by diplomacy and negotiation, if they are capable of resolution at all. If there is no solution, then each one to his own. After all, life in Gibraltar is not so bad, nor are local cross-border relations bad. Thankfully, no one's life is at risk. Let diplomats resolve those disputes that, if resolved, save lives. Gibraltar will remain a good place to live in whether or not Spain continues to pursue its claim and provoke incidents in the Bay. We should take comfort in knowing how frustrated Spain must feel at making absolutely no progress over its claim. We should all get on with our lives like we do now and did during the closed border era. If Spain places inconveniences in our way, they can never be as bad as those that we faced when the frontier blockade was in full swing.
Did the issue really require a Ministerial Statement? I am not sure. If it did not, what was the motivation for it? Certainly electors in Gibraltar seem to have taken it in their stride. I certainly have.