Recent pronouncements by the Chief Minister on sovereignty, the Trilateral Process and Gibraltar's relationship with the MOD have left me confused and concerned.
In his Ministerial Statement of the 14 October he said that Spanish incursions into Gibraltar's British territorial waters impacted on " ... the viability of cooperation in matters relating to waters". He was very careful throughout this statement to limit any consequence of these incursions on the Trilateral Process to " ... cooperation in matters relating to waters ..." whilst giving the impression that the consequences were far more serious than that by the mere effect of the whole context of the statement and making his pronouncement in a rarely used "Ministerial Statement" on GBC.
No wonder that Spain was so sure that the Tripartite Process would continue without even a pause, which was what Moratino said the very next day. He must have been sure of his ground, especially as in his statement the Chief Minister states unequivocally that " The Trilateral Forum of Dialogue, which ... is in everyone's interest, is a political achievement of which I am especially proud " whilst covering the other angle by saying that he is " ... more firmly committed to the robust and resolute defence of our Sovereignty".
In this same Ministerial Statement he acknowledges the UK's Constitutional role and obligation to defend Gibraltar's British territorial waters and admits that Gibraltar does not have the resources to do so itself. Then he goes on to suggest, in my view incautiously, a military escalation by writing to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs seeking that he consider " ... the systemic deployment and intervention of the Royal Navy in support and protection of the RGP ..." Thankfully the F & CO put matters in perspective, rightly in my opinion, by resorting to diplomatic protests.
Promptly thereafter, the Chief Minister contradicts himself. In his speech at the Guildhall in London on the 19 October he announces that the MOD are guests in Gibraltar by using the word "host". He said "... for Gibraltar the ability to host Britain's military installations is our way of being able to invest something back into the Great British family ...". Why, where and when would guests (which I do not agree is what the MOD are in Gibraltar, as they are here as of right, otherwise British sovereignty becomes an irrelevance both on land and sea) be obliged to defend their hosts?
Now let us recap again. My understanding is that the GSD spin (and probably honest take and belief) on the Trilateral Process is that it is about cooperation and not sovereignty but that there is nothing to prevent Spain raising the issue of sovereignty. If they do so Spain would receive a gentle or not so gentle rebuff from Gibraltar. I was surprised, therefore, to read in the Chronic (22 October) that the Ministerial meeting within the Trilateral process was proceeding on the 3 November, that the waters' issue would be discussed at that level and that technical talks on every other aspect, except those touching directly or indirectly on territorial waters, would continue in the meantime.
Well, pray how can this be? The whole dispute over territorial waters ONLY concerns sovereignty. There are two diametrically opposed stances. The UK/Gibraltar position that the waters surrounding Gibraltar are British territorial waters traversed by Spain's position that no territorial waters have ever been ceded to Britain. Consequently, how is the issue of the waters surrounding Gibraltar going to be the subject matter of the next round of the Trilateral Process at Ministerial level, with the Chief Minister participating, without those discussions necessarily including a discussion on sovereignty of the waters and thus not being just about cooperation?
My view is that one mission and aim for the Trilateral Process has been partly accomplished by others, as predicted in this blog in past pieces. That mission has been to get the affected parties to talk about the real problem: sovereignty. Has Gibraltar been checkmated? Time alone will tell. The Chief Minister's belief (22 October Chronic) is "what we have achieved in the last four days in discussions with Spain and London is their agreement on the matrix of meetings that we wanted". I wonder why Spain and London have agreed to Gibraltar's matrix for these talks?
One consequent issue that Gibraltar's leaders will have to wrestle with in the future, if my analysis that the Trilateral Process will become a forum to discus sovereignty is correct, is how will Gibraltar be able to extricate itself from the Trilateral Process without causing a major diplomatic rupture? Maybe, in time, younger Gibraltarian will not want to, who knows.