In the midst of the worst recession the world has witnessed, with the Eurozone crumbling and the very future of the EU itself at stake, the vacuous Spanish government has come up with a ploy it hopes will take its downtrodden people’s focus off the politico-economic morass it’s in.
Following in the jackboot prints of Franco, Prime Minister Mariono Rajoy has now played the Gibraltar card, thrown his toys out of the pram and spitefully banned Queen Sofia from officially attending her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
This follows last week’s spat in a teacup, when Spain formally objected to the planned visit next month of Prince Edward and his missus to the Rock, as part of his mum’s knees-up.
Of course, Gibraltar – a 2.6 square mile pimple on the gluteus maximus of Europe, with a population of around 30,000 and known to the Spanish as El Peñón – is contiguous with Spain. So, too, is France and Portugal, though Madrid has yet to lay claim to those two nations.
In France’s case it did once 299 years ago, which resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession, when Philip V of Spain tried to usurp the French throne. Fearing a calamitous shift in European power, an alliance between Britain, Holland, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Savoy punctured Phil the Bourbon’s haughty ambitions.
During the contretemps that lasted from 1701 to 1713, an Anglo-Dutch fleet captured The Rock in 1704 and, thanks to the Treaty of Utrecht, Gib was ceded to Britain (along with Minorca temporarily) ‘in perpetuity’, which – the last time I consulted my dictionary – meant forever and a sunset.
Over the centuries the miniscule splodge of territory has played a defining role in Britain’s defences and still does. Moreover, in 1967 and 2002, its inhabitants voted in plebiscites, by a 99-to-one majority, to remain British, which, under Europe’s rules of people’s self-determination, should have rendered the issue beyond debate.
Obsessional Spain, however, won’t let it lie, considers the Rock-dwellers a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, and is particularly chagrined about a recent fracas, when Spanish fishermen were banned from casting their nets in Gibraltan territorial waters.
Rajoy, like many of his predecessors, keeps banging on about bi-lateral talks directly with Britain over Gib’s future, neatly bypassing the reasonable aspirations of the locals.
However, when taken to task, he dodges and weaves around the festering topics of Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s two, autonomous enclaves in North Africa, which the Moroccans consider theirs.
Not unfairly, one cannot but be drawn to the conclusion that, somewhere in the white heat of the kitchen of international diplomacy, pots are calling kettles black, with righteous Spain making the loudest din.