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Opinion & Analysis

Spain’s wasted opportunity to be pragmatic

By John Alcantara Jr

One has to congratulate Jimmy Burns’s dialectic dance in his article (Gibraltar: time for pragmatism). He manages to make an impassioned, if misguided appeal to pragmatism, without once mentioning the words co-sovereignty or joint sovereignty. No one in Gibraltar will be seduced by his clever argumentation, but it is fundamentally flawed.

Spain, by its active lobbying, has managed to persuade its EU partners to give it a veto on Gibraltar’s post Brexit relationship with the EU. If ever one wanted to signal dogma instead of pragmatism this was it. This has been followed up by threats of the ‘unpleasant’ consequences for Gibraltarians if they fail to accept Spain’s “generous” offer of joint sovereignty. He urges Gibraltarians to drop talk of “Europe punishing Gibraltar”. In Gibraltar we call a spade a spade. Spain has wasted her best opportunity to demonstrate pragmatism.

Gibraltarians have been appalled at the outbursts of xenophobia from the Brexit leaning press. We have found ourselves being used as a football in a game we did not want to play. However, much as Lord Howard’s words could be ill advised, it is Spain who has sent her warships and military aircraft into Gibraltar waters and airspace. What was the point of that if not to intimidate?

Mr. Burns makes the point that the Tripartite Forum could only ever be a forum for “managing the Gibraltar problem rather than resolving it”. An aggressive and intransigent José Manuel García Margallo killed off the forum and kept from those parts of the Cordoba Agreement that suited him. Reopening the Cervantes Institute, much as I would welcome it, would do little to restore mutual trust. How could Spain be trusted on much more important issues like sovereignty when she has shown her true colours in resiling from the Cordoba Agreement? There is no “Gibraltar Problem” to resolve. There is an unhealthy Spanish obsession with Gibraltar which, apparently, can only be requited when Gibraltarians see sense and give up their exclusive British birthright and their right to exclusively manage their own affairs.

Gibraltar is not averse to cross-border co-operation it has demonstrated its willingness to engage time and again on social, cultural and sporting activities. It is not the Gibraltar football team that refuses to play in Spain but Spain that has obliged Gibraltar to play anywhere but on her territory. Her opposition to having Gibraltar in UEFA & FIFA and her defeats in both cases underline the weakness of her position. Gibraltar’s sovereignty is clear both in the Treaty of Utrecht and the UN principle of self-determination. Spain has been invited to take her case to international arbitration but she refuses knowing the weakness of her arguments.

An appeal to pragmatism is needed; to make that appeal to Gibraltarians is misguided. Mr. Burns is talking to an audience that knows the value of cross border collaboration. Pragmatism would be an immediate return to the Tripartite Forum not the threats and incursions that have been proffered so far.

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