I sat staring at my computer screen wondering how to begin this article for quite a while. In politics, in writing and in teaching, I usually take difficult concepts and explain them in ways that the average person on the street can understand. I can’t write that kind of article today, because the concept is remarkably simple.
They’re British. Why are they British? Because they want to be British.
Both have voted in recent referenda with overwhelming majorities to be British. In the Falklands, 99.8% of people voted to remain British. In Gibraltar, the figure was ‘only’ 98.5%. Can you imagine – in England, Scotland or Wales – 98.5% of the population agreeing on anything?
I tweeted something about this earlier, and someone replied with the word ‘location’. Is Gibraltar Spanish because it happens to be near to Spain? Spain’s enclaves in Morocco – Ceuta and Melilla – are Spanish. Although they’re on a different continent, they remain Spanish because that’s what the people of Ceuta and Melilla want.
Spain also has an enclave, Llívia, in France. Llívia has no territorial integrity at all. It’s entirely contained within France. There’s a little bit of France that wants to be Spanish, is Spanish, and you don’t see French border guards deliberately making life as difficult as possible for those living there.
So to recap: Spain has bits of Spain which are in Morocco and another which is entirely contained within France. Yet it believes that its territorial integrity is not maintained because the people of the Rock want to remain British. This makes no sense. In Spain, dissent from this view is treated harshly: motorists entering Gibraltar in the Mediterranean summer heat have been required to queue for hours for ‘border checks’ – but the Telegraph reports that a British man living in Madrid was arrested for describing Spanish police as ‘torturers’ over the blazing heat. It’s not the language I’d use myself, but really? Grounds for arrest?
Spain is now offering Argentina support over the Falklands islands, in a bizarre gesture of solidarity against democracy. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Spain. I speak the language, I love the culture and in general I love the people. They cook some of the best food in the world, have beautiful weather and scenery. But their government is wrong on Gibraltar, and now it’s wrong on the Falklands too.
But here I should declare an interest: my late grandmother was born in Gibraltar.