Who ever would have thought it, a latin economy in the toilet and out comes the sabre, rattling, for the use of.
No not Argentina, this time it is Spain, yes, the same Spain that is a fellow member of the EU and NATO ally.
A recent Parliamentary Answer provided some insight behind the recent escalation of nuisance intrusions in the waters off Gibraltar.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many reports have been made of illegal incursions of Spanish vessels in the territorial waters of Gibraltar in each of the last two years.
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 11 December 2012, c246W)
Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire, Conservative)
There were 67 recorded instances of unlawful incursions by Spanish state vessels in British Gibraltar territorial waters during 2010 and 23 in 2011. There have been 197 between 1 January and 30 November this year.
One of the Ministry of Defence’s roles in Gibraltar is to help maintain the United Kingdom’s sovereignty over British Gibraltar territorial waters. In support of this, the Royal Navy challenges unlawful maritime incursions. These challenges are subsequently pursued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish Government.
At the end of November the Spanish Ambassador to the United Kingdom was summoned to Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a chat and told to knock it off. As seems usual, the Spanish reciprocated and voiced their claims to some of the waters off Gibraltar.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said;
It is equally important for Gibraltar, as much as it is for the credibility of British diplomacy, that these diplomatic steps should be backed up by actions designed to assert the indisputable British sovereignty of the waters in question.
There will therefore be unanimity across the floor of this House in the call for the Ministry of Defence to be able to deploy in Gibraltar as soon as possible the assets necessary to ensure the defence of these waters against the armed vessels and agents of the Spanish state.
What made the most recent incursions different were that they were carried out by Spanish naval vessels and the row about wildlife conservation and the rights of the Gibraltar people continues unabated.
These calls for an escalation were heard with a deaf ear but the FCO issued a strongly worded statement designed to force the Spaniards to back down
What is unacceptable for Gibraltar is the notion that the UK would negotiate with Spain instead of the UK and Gibraltar negotiating with Spain, the principle of trilateralism is at the core of the UK’s position and despite some erroneous headlines has been reiterated.
The UK can confirm that the UK and Spain held official level discussions yesterday about many subjects. The UK holds such discussions with Spain regularly on a wide range of issues as is standard in the conduct of international relations. As is also standard, the content of those discussions is regarded by the UK to be subject to diplomatic confidentiality.
On occasion, issues pertaining to Gibraltar may be raised by either side. The UK is constitutionally responsible for Gibraltar’s external affairs and defence, and has regularly used its contacts with Spain – in the very closest consultation with successive HM Governments of Gibraltar – to pursue and defend the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, including to press for an end to the unacceptable incursions by Spanish state vessels into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and protest in relation to border delays.
Such ad hoc contacts in no way constitute a return to any bilateralism in respect of Gibraltar. Moreover, the UK is at all times clear with its Spanish interlocutors that it abides by the “double-lock” formula and therefore is not prepared to discuss sovereignty. The UK shares the position of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar on our strong commitment to return to the Trilateral Process for Dialogue and Gibraltar’s active participation in that dialogue process. We have repeatedly made clear to Spain that this position is non-negotiable, that there will be no return to bilateralism and that there is no question of the Trilateral Process for Dialogue being replaced by a quadrilateral or bilateral process.
In keeping with the modern relationship which the UK and Gibraltar enjoy under the 2006 Constitution, the UK actively briefs Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar on all matters of relevance to Gibraltar, and is doing so on this occasion.
Note: ‘double lock’: The UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.
Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 was unequivocal
The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever
A 2002 referendum, with a turnout of just under 90%, returned a No to the question of shared sovereignty, 98.5%. By any measure, that is an emphatic expression of the wishes of Gibraltarians.
The Labour Shadow Defence Minister Jim Murphy MP was the then Minister of State for Europe and in 2008 stated;
The UK Government will never — “never” is a seldom-used word in politics — enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people. In fact, we will never even enter into a process without that agreement. The word “never” sends a substantial and clear commitment and has been used for a purpose. We have delivered that message with confidence to the peoples and the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain. It is a sign of the maturity of our relationship now that that is accepted as the UK’s position.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea describes a 12 nautical mile territorial limit but because Spain was being chippy and the Treaty of Utrecht did not specifically mention territorial waters they decided that despite their ratifying the UN Convention they did not acknowledge that it applied to Gibraltar which smacks of picking and choosing which parts of international law you want to abide by.
In fact, Article 309 of the Convention says
No reservations or exceptions may be made to this Convention unless expressly permitted by other articles of this Convention.
And this is backed up with Article 310
Article 309 does not preclude a State, when signing, ratifying or acceding to this Convention, from making declarations or statements, however phrased or named, with a view, inter alia, to the harmonization of its laws and regulations with the provisions of this Convention, provided that such declarations or statements do not purport to exclude or to modify the legal effect of the provisions of this Convention in their application to that State.
Despite this, the UK and Gibraltar governments have both stated that the 3 nautical mile limit.
Things got more interesting in 2008 when the EU was hoodwinked by Spain into granting Spain the rights to administer a conservation zone that included the waters around Gibraltar. Legal proceedings are still ongoing so it is on this basis that Spain is using a basis for their incursions.
In August this year an agreement between Gibraltar and Spain over fishing permits was rescinded.
It is a complex legal picture made ever more complex by competing political and financial issues.
Seems to me that Spain is pushing the line bit by bit and without a firm response that comprises more than harsh punctuation it will continue to do so.
Spain is a NATO ally and a valuable trading partner with UK exports to Spain of some £10b per year and so it would be easy to take the conciliatory diplomatic line but at some point I think there has to be a line drawn.
It’s time for the UK Government to make a very visible point and show a bit of spine.