THIS SICK BETRAYAL! Believe It or Not, These People Are Desperate to Stay British. Their History Is Our History. Is That Why Messrs Blair & Straw Are So Keen to Stab Them in the Back?

By Glover, Stephen | Daily Mail (London), September 13, 2002 | Go to article overview

THIS SICK BETRAYAL! Believe It or Not, These People Are Desperate to Stay British. Their History Is Our History. Is That Why Messrs Blair & Straw Are So Keen to Stab Them in the Back?


Glover, Stephen, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: STEPHEN GLOVER

WE'RE British, we're British!

Thousands of people are on the streets singing and dancing.

Most are young. They are wearing red T-shirts which proclaim: 'Gibraltarians we are, British we stay.' Or waving Union flags and Gibraltar's own flag. There is a girl on stilts, flag in hand, gyrating wildly.

The scene is Casemates Square in the old part of Gibraltar, overshadowed by the mighty Rock, at a rally on Tuesday to celebrate Gibraltar's national day.

Most of the 30,000 inhabitants have taken to the streets, and thousands are crammed into the square beneath the burning sun. Others watch from the balconies of blocks of flats bedecked with flags.

The crowd erupts whenever speakers, including visiting British parliamentarians from the three main parties, talk about the inalienable Britishness of Gibraltarians. 'What greater principle could there be than the right of people to selfdetermination?' asks Michael Howard, the Shadow Chancellor. The cheers he receives must be the biggest he has heard these past ten years.

But the crowd jeers when the name of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is mentioned, and that of his deputy, Peter Hain. They reserve the loudest booing of all for any mention of that champion of self-determination and saviour of the free world, Tony Blair.

The Gibraltarians think they are being sold out. And rightly so. In July, Mr Straw told the Commons that the British Government has agreed in principle to share sovereignty with Spain over Gibraltar. There are perhaps 500, at most 1,000, people in Gibraltar out of 30,000 who welcome this step. And yet this process has been entered into, and vigorously pursued, by Mr Straw in defiance of the wishes or concerns of the Gibraltarians.

This is a tale of incredible skulduggery, cynical realpolitik and deceit.

And that's just the British. The Spanish government has displayed an obsession with the 21/4 square mile British colony that borders on the psychotic. They have bullied, and continue to bully, the Gibraltarians, and in so doing have made a weak case indefensible.

After the General Election last June, Mr Straw became Foreign Secretary. But while his predecessor Robin Cook had defended the status quo - no negotiations with Spain over sovereignty - Mr Straw cheerfully began talks over shared sovereignty with the Spanish government. He had been egged on by the real Foreign Secretary, Tony Blair, who values his warm relations with Jose Maria Aznar, Spain's Right-of-centre Prime Minister.

MR BLAIR has never visited Gibraltar and refuses to meet its democratically elected Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, who is a decent and competent man. But he has a great deal of time for Mr Aznar, whose daughter's wedding he attended in Spain last week.

Downing Street believes a British-Spanish-Italian axis within the EU could counterbalance the dominant Franco-German one. So the sell-out took shape.

For if Britain and Spain are already good friends, Gibraltar remains the tiny grit in the bottom of the shoe. The obsession which the Spanish ruling class, especially on the Right, has with the Rock cannot be overstated. In fact, Spain captured Gibraltar only in 1462 after it had been in Arab hands for nearly all of the preceding 700 years. Since it passed by treaty to Britain in 1713, it has been British for about as long as it had been Spanish.

This is not an argument which cuts any ice in Madrid. Spain craves Gibraltar, though it is not even prepared to discuss the return to Morocco of two Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the North African coast. It either doesn't mind, or can't see, its hypocrisy. In July, it threatened to retake by force Parsley Island, an uninhabited rocky outcrop off the Morocco coast, which had been fleetingly occupied by a few Moroccan soldiers. …

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