Gibraltar invaded? It could be a Goa for Spain

Gibraltar invaded? It could be a Goa for Spain

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 3, April, 2017

THIRTY-FIVE years ago the UK liberated the Falklands from Argentine invasion. Parallels are being drawn between that conflict and Spain's evergreen diplomatic aggression against Gibraltar. This has increased this week due to the EU Commission suggesting, in its written guidance for negotiations, that Spain could veto any Brexit deal over Gibraltar. Such language is at best clumsy and at worst extremely divisive. Given the past performance of the EU I suspect both factors are at play, the latter intentionally.

Stand back and the facts are obvious. Gibraltar is outside the customs union of the EU already, yet inside the EU and the EEA. It was always going to have a slightly different relationship than the rest of the UK because needs must. Likewise the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus are outside the EU but use the Euro as currency, the British Virgin Islands use the US Dollar. This in itself is no issue.

The language however gives tacit support to Spanish nationalists whether it intends to or not. This is dangerous. The Spanish economy is weak, youth unemployment through the roof and the EU increasingly dominated by Berlin. Brexit will only compound these things initially. 

In 1961 following years of protests by Delhi that Goa was a hangover of colonialism, despite 450 years of Portuguese rule, Nehru the prince of peace launched a surprise armed offensive that took the territory in 48 hours. Lisbon was shocked, outraged, and powerless. The UN and US condemned the violence as they always do but nothing more was said. Diplomatic relations were paused for 13 years but it mattered not. India received a tonic of nationalist delight at home and praise from Communist and third world nations abroad. The zeitgeist was not on Lisbon's side despite the fact Goa was indeed a legal possession, no less than French Guiana is now. 

Failing to spot rising tension, a sublime but unjustified self belief and a world where the poles had moved from Europe conspired to catch Lisbon napping.

Now imagine an event for minimal cost that would garner support in Latin America, at home and also please those in the EU who wish to punish the UK. Imagine a snap invasion and occupation by Spain. Well, maybe some fishermen, some local youths, then it gets violent, then the police cross the border to intervene... Putin and the KGB before are well versed in salami tactics. Hey, isn't salami Mediterranean?

Once taken would the UK really go to war with the EU or Spain alone? Could Brexit Britain afford this during negotiations? The buttons on the calculator are being pressed whether we like it or not. Suez happened because nationalism was strong in Egypt and the UK and France as weak. Nasser gambled the Americans would not intervene and he was right. It devastated UK foreign policy for years and began a rapid unravelling on an empire that had survived two world wars.

Sabre rattling by retired admirals is foolish. We could be very close to the UK being shut out of the Mediterranean for good. No Gibraltar, no Cyprus, and Argentina watching all the while. Too many people and nations do not like the UK for all the good (and bad) of our past. Whether that is the EU trying to prise Scotland out of the UK, or the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo claiming the Rock yet again.

So what to do? We could start being British about the whole thing. Say nothing, build up the Navy, use those embassies we staff to keep conversations private that need to be had, and of course make sure every economic reprisal possible is held close the chest...well, let them see a King or two maybe.

Rattling is panicking. It never looks like anything else. A lack of preparation is not much better. Constant incursions into Gibraltar's waters by Spain need dealt with. Their tourist sector relies on us yet air passenger duty to the Canaries is the same as to Barcelona only because of the taxation model the UK uses. Hint, hint...

While Spain's economy is weak, its national pride is not. It is very clear the EU is not subtle in diplomacy and has no real solution to Brexit. We should leverage this, not fight it. We need to take the lead positively. Armchair politicians, myself included, can list all manner of ways to resolve this. In the end it is what is not said in public officially that often matters most.

We should also be careful that we do not create a rod for our own backs by building up an issue so that the Spanish believe they have a strong bargaining chip to retain access to our fishing waters.

The UK has a fine suite of diplomats that are best heard, and not seen. It will need them. A snap invasion of Gibraltar could well be a Goa, and will only end one way and at great cost to both countries. Let's not talk ourselves further into this. Cool heads are needed, the waters ahead are choppier than we realise.


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