Magazine article The Spectator

If There Is a Case for Ceding the Rock, It Has Nothing to Do with Revisionist Knee-Jerk Liberalism

Magazine article The Spectator

If There Is a Case for Ceding the Rock, It Has Nothing to Do with Revisionist Knee-Jerk Liberalism

Article excerpt

I'm sorry, but where Gibraltar is concerned I'm a traditionalist. Call me a diehard Tory, but on this, a question of British sovereignty, I feel quite intransigent. Perhaps that comes from a colonial boyhood.

The arguments the other way, much-- trailed in the media these last few years, simply don't wash. They are defeatist. Mostly they come from the children of the 1960s, educated in an era when the United Nations was all the rage and Britain's future was seen as a gentle giving way in the face of what was said to be the pressure of modernity. It was considered little short of heresy to stand up for the interests of our own country.

But I believe in sovereignty. Where British possessions are concerned, I believe in rights of ownership. History supports this view. The Treaty of Utrecht admits of no other conclusion than that, in 1713, both Britain and Spain signed a solemn declaration under which, from that date, the Rock passed to us. Passed to us in the fullest sense. Spain explicitly ceded the place. We took it, fair and square. We are entitled to keep it as long as we like.

And entitled to give it away. It is ours -- ours, not its residents' - to dispose of as we choose.

To its residents' opinions we will certainly want to listen, but they cannot possibly be given the final say or any other kind of formal lien on a piece of rock which belongs wholly and simply to the British Crown. That would be a departure from the whole principle of overseas possession, a bad case of revisionist knee-jerk liberalism, and a dangerous precedent. We should stick to the old-fashioned view.

So let us be clear about this. Mine is the old-fashioned view. I am content to hear the argument for the sovereignty of residents' wishes if advanced as what it is: a rather newfangled doctrine of self-determination, local democracy and human rights. But it is simply ignorant to advance that argument as though it had something to do with Conservatism, `standing firm', or defending tradition.

Conservatism, tradition and the history of standing firm all point the same way. Britain `stands firm' in her own interests. Proper Conservatives understand that throughout our history we have acquired, traded, ceded, bought and sold territory in a pretty unsqueamish way, often to the inconvenience or distress of those who lived there. These transactions have been guided primarily by the convenience of the metropolitan power, as interpreted by ministers of the Crown. Latterly, these ministers have been elected, indirectly, by the adult population of the metropolitan power.

Workers and settlers have often been transported to these places and the natives made subjects of the Crown. Their wishes have usually been listened to in a humane way, but they have never been offered the right to block government policy. Sometimes (as in Hong Kong) their citizenship has effectively been taken away and they have been left to their fate. This has been done with regret, but without constitutional compunction. The British Crown is perfectly entitled to withdraw its protection from anyone, anywhere, including from its own subjects; and sometimes must.

Spain, incidentally, is entitled to do the same. Simon Young (`Hard rock', I December) is unwise to argue that Spain's insistence on keeping hold of her own offshore enclaves on the Moroccan coast strengthens our claim to Gibraltar. …

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