Tuesday, 12th June 2012
Our future is British, but what of Europe and Spain
The Rock did itself proud yesterday giving the Earl and Countess of Wessex a true effusive, Gibraltarian welcome.
At the heart of the visit, protested rather excessively by Spain, is a deep rooted history that goes well beyond the Treaty of Utrecht that has been upheld by Britain and Spain for nearly 300 years.
Gibraltarians, alongside Britain, have been through many difficult times.
In 1969, with the closure of the border, Spain chose a course that would deeply ingrain and seal British culture into the heart and soul of the population.
It is a sentiment rooted in British democracy and fairness and reinforced by our witnessing the varying waves of hostility and retreat from Spain.
Resilience and shared dislike for bullying saw the Rock through that difficult challenge. But Gibraltar emerged to the democratisation of old Europe, with Spain in 1985 being granted advanced EU rights in Gibraltar as part of the Brussels Agreement that opened Spain’s border gates. We then seemed to be walking a slow path to a modern convivencia, if not a resolution.
But the effect of closure left a deep sense of mistrust in Gibraltarians about Spain, that is being encouraged by the noises Spain is making in recent months, not to mention the rise of extremists pumping nasty e-traffic at Gibraltar that we do well to ignore.
But Madrid ignores to the detriment of its own agenda that its actions have and will continue to make us much more than just politically opposed to its overtures. Emerging mass media and the development of our education system over the past 25 years, reinforced by our grants system for British universities, have created a Gibraltar today that is not only loyal to the Queen but intrinsically woven into the cultural and political fabric of British life.
That said, it cannot be forgotten that at the heart of the relative liberty and economic development is the fact of the European Union. For all its overwhelming directives, it has been the EU that, ultimately, has blocked Spain’s aggressions and guaranteed freedom of movement not just of persons but of goods and services, including financial services.
Whilst Spain’s challenge on taxation is unlikely to have any prompt effect, if success at all, we must keep a very alert eye on developments in Europe generally.
From the bottom end, countries like Greece threaten to unravel the fabric of the EU. Then in Britain, whilst intellectuals ponder a new form of Europe and UK membership, a poll by The Times yesterday showed most Britons not only want a referendum on Europe, there is a majority who would support opting out.
We threw the gauntlet of court action down on the sovereignty of the waters only to have Spain take it up on taxation. What we should all be working towards instead is a viable relationship that protects our core interests including remaining, people and territory under the British Crown and, hopefully, in the arms of a strong, functioning EU.
It is critical that our Government not only defends our interests, as indeed it has done now and its predecessor did before the election, but that it articulates a policy and direction towards which we can work.