Gibraltar’s 50th Anniversary National Day was an outstanding success, with the video message from Prime Minister Theresa May being warmly received. Viewed objectively it fell well short of what was required. This was a one and only event, at a crucial time when the future direction of the British Overseas Territory is uncertain. In the previous post we set out the first five points of action that we asked the PM to initiate. The two points relating to the Royal Family visiting Gibraltar still need to be demonstrated. On three of those points she has failed to deliver and so we can judge with some accuracy what the real level of committment there is from the Office of the PM and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It does not look good. She failed to attend in person and as far as it is possible to ascertain she has never visited the Rock. No matter how detailed the briefings she receives, they cannot match seeing at first hand what the problems are and hearing directly from Gibraltarians what their experiences are; be it delays when crossing the border of up to five hours or being harassed by Spanish State vessels when they are fishing in their own British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
Only by visiting the border herself and going out into the Bay with the patrol boats of the RN would she fully understand the daily difficulties they have to endure. By walking along Main Street and being engaged by ordinary citizens [who are not backward at coming forward] she would be in no doubt about their strength of feeling and the low regard they have for the FCO, who think that issuing diplomatic letters of protest to the Spanish Ambassador are a satisfactory response, when they want to see a much higher and progressive level of direct action.
The PM seems to have attached more importance to delivering a speech in Florence, that could have been delivered anywhere, even in Gibraltar.
She failed to step up to the mark and so did Boris Johnson, her Foreign Secretary. It was then left to third tier, Alan Duncan, to be the UK’s authoritative face at the celebrations. There are many more in her Cabinet who should get themselves down to Gibraltar to acquaint themselves with the facts and meet the people. They would then find that there are discrepancies about what they are being told and what is actually happening. The FCO are appeasers who do not want to upset the Spanish Government. This is why the PM did not visit, why the Queen has not visited, and why her Government does not extend BGTW from three miles to the full twelve nautical miles as entitled by the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea. A hundred years ago the Foreign Office was in favour of swapping Gibraltar for the Spanish Moroccan port of Ceuta on the opposite side of the Strait. We can now see what a good idea that would have been!!
The fact is that Theresa May chickened out. Which does not hold out much hope for a positive reaction to the other five points of action that the CDP proposed to her in June.
“Sixth, are the concerns relating to the defence of the Territory. There are a variety of maritime units and vessels operating within BGTW, but the responsibility for defending those waters lies with the Royal Navy and the Gibraltar Squadron. They are under-resourced, comprising three RHIBs and two fast Patrol Boats, which have a limited range and are only suitable for inshore operations. Larger vessels are not suited operationally for making fast responses, but they could provide the guard and protection for RN and Allied warships that regularly make use of the RN Base and thus enable the PBs to concentrate on interception of intruders.
Offshore Patrol Vessels would be a cheaper and reasonable option to provide this additional layer of security, and they would demonstrate a commitment that would beneficially extend the Gibraltar based RN operations to the Straits, Western Mediterranean Sea and North African Atlantic Ocean. It would be a range of duties comprising showing the flag, intelligence gathering, maintaining the right of passage and being closely available for humanitarian missions.
Batch 2 River class OPVs are starting to enter service, but the three existing Batch 1 are due to be decommissioned. This decision should be reversed. They should be kept in service and initially one, and later two, should be assigned to the Gibraltar Squadron.
Seventh, as no agreement will ever satisfy the Spanish Government, and if the twelve-mile limit is claimed, it can be expected that incursions in to BGTW will continue and increase. In that event the exercise of powers of arrest should be enforced and RN Rules of Engagement amended accordingly.
Eighth, the Territory is totally deficient in airpower. The minimum requires the deployment of a unit of helicopters to provide support to the Gibraltar Squadron and for search and rescue.
Given the strategic location of Gibraltar there should also be a tactical fast-jet capability. A flight of four would suffice and could be facilitated as part of RAF training. This could be similar to the Falkland Islands with a rotation of pilots or to the rotation of aircraft as in the Baltic region.
Ninth, is the desirability of Gibraltar becoming a full member of the British and Irish Common Travel Area, on the same basis as the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Man. Gibraltar should ultimately be a full member of the British + Irish Council, and in the meantime should be granted observer status as is enjoyed by Cornwall. Following on from this Gibraltar would also be a participant at the British + Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
Tenth, although the proposal in the preceding paragraph would not be dependent on a change of status to that of a Crown Dependency, it would be more advantageous. Also, these proposals are irrespective of any outcome deriving from the result of the EU Referendum and Agreement for the UK exit from the EU.
The UK would still be responsible for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security as with the existing Crown Dependencies. However, as with them the administering function would pass to the Ministry of Justice. This could ameliorate the poor relations that Gibraltar has experienced with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which to say the least have been patchy.
We feel that it is preferrable to any option of integration that will result in a loss or worsening of the independence Gibraltar now enjoys. Also, because Gibraltar would be forever a Crown jurisdiction, the pre-emption contained in the Treaty of Utrecht can never be triggered. It would also be able to declare Gibraltar free from the machinations of the Committee of 24 at the UN.“
The response from Sir Alan Duncan was predictable. Incursions by Spanish State vessels are a violation of UK sovereignty, not a threat to it, which is backed up with diplomatic protests. They continually monitor the military presence [both Naval and Air assets] and routinely adjust force posture and resources as appropriate. The people of Gibraltar endorsed their current Constitution in a 2006 referendum and the UK Government is open to discussions with the Government of Gibraltar. Since that reply there have been some developments with the delivery of three new, unarmed, interceptor boats to the Gibraltar Defence Police and confirmation that Sabre and Sceptre are to be replaced with larger faster and better armed vessels in two years time. That assumes they will be two of the Offshore Patrol Vessels now under construction or to be retained instead of being decommissioned – with either a 20mm or a 30mm main gun. While this is an improvement, they are slower than the two patrol boats they are intended to replace, which need to be retained on station or replaced with a similar fast armed boat. There are no proposals for helicopters or fast-jets.
Recent local reports show that the Spanish Government has not altered its stated aims in any way whatsoever. The threats remain the same and there is no indication that the Royal Navy rules of engagement, and arrest powers, are to be updated in response to that reality.