Young Dave, far from thinking that leaving the EU would be a jolly good wheeze, has been invoking its laws to try and force those dastardly Spaniards to give ground on the border checks they are making for traffic crossing between La Línea de la Concepción and Gibraltar. In pursuit of this objective, he has phoned EC President José Manuel Barroso to talk about the right of free movement.
Which last will bring a wry smile to those who had to queue all the way back to the Autoroute junction recently when a shortage of UK Border Agency staff at the Coquelles Channel Tunnel Terminal led to cars waiting for hours to clear Customs and board Folkestone bound shuttles. There could be no protest in that case, save by the Maily Telegraph, as it was self-inflicted.
And what the Government and press are still not prepared to admit is that the Gibraltar dispute is not a smokescreen to deflect Spanish peoples’ attention from economic problems, or try to get folks to “look over there” rather than notice the potential for scandal to engulf PM Mariano Rajoy’s Party, but is primarily a reaction to the Gibraltar Government and its recent actions.
Current first minister Fabian Picardo is regarded as significantly more belligerent than his predecessor, Peter Caruana. And following the last Spanish General Elections in 2011, there has been a new Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, who is hostile to Gibraltar remaining in British hands. So when Picardo oversaw the creation of that “artificial reef”, he should have thought first.
This has given García-Margallo the required pretext for reaction, and also to wheel out a list of grievances: added to those of the local fishermen (legitimate), and the complaints over bunkering (not sure about that one), has now come the demand that any future talks are not merely tripartite ones – featuring the London, Madrid and Gibraltar Governments – but should include the Junta de Andalucía.
But don’t we have an ace up our sleeves, with all those tourists visiting Spain every year? Ah well. Think also of the one million British expats in Spain, mainly in the South. Then remember that 80% of Gibraltar’s tourists are Spanish (often taking advantage of the lack of VAT), and that around 6,700 Gibraltarians live in Spain, but do not pay any tax there.
Many of Gibraltar’s residents carry an EU Health Card and use facilities in Spain. Sure, thousands of Spanish citizens living in what is known as the Campo de Gibraltar work on The Rock. But this action is not so much Spain cutting off nose to spite face, as a Mexican standoff with Madrid holding the biggest gun, and Cameron and William ‘Ague having already blinked.
As I said previously, time to haul that concrete out of the sea and think again.