Rule Britannia

Diplomatic incident in the Med! Enemy vessels threatens British enclave! Dive…dive…dive!!

Yes a wee Spanish survey boat came cheekily close to the sovereign waters of Gibraltar and – damn those siesta-lovers – didn’t they refuse to clear off under orders from Her Imperial Majesty’s Royal Navy. The brave Brit tars had to send out what looked like a pleasure craft, a kind of high-powered pedallo, to shadow the impudent imposters. Actually the RN pedallo may be all Britain’s got left as it downgrades its naval capacity by building aircraft carriers without aircraft.

Such was the storm of indignation from the British that the Spanish Ambassador was summoned for a telling off in London which I imagined to be a bit like Basil Fawlty slapping Manuel across the head.

What imaginings the Establishment conjures to bolster its self-imposed air of importance. How on earth could Spain which I think is still a member of the EU and of NATO be remotely threatening to Britain? If they are doing subsea surveys in the Med, so what? If they aren’t but are spoiling for trouble, why play their game? It really does sound like one of those affairs that require the teacher to come out and separate the wee boys.

What on earth do the Brits think they are protecting in Gibraltar in any case, apart from some 19th century concept of being a naval power policing the Straights where they used to plunder the vessels of Spain, France, Italy and Malta as they did when Nelson was in his pomp.

Gibraltar appears to be a kind of tax haven, although cleared of any toxic associations, in which companies operate remotely – for example betting companies which supply 15 per cent of GDP – paying no tax in Britain, something the Revenue and Customs is trying to clamp down on. There is no sales tax despite EU membership. What, one wonders, does Gibraltar actually do for Britain that justifies naval intervention anyway.

Is there any strategic military need to have British forces defending the Rock and from whom? The Spanish? Surely an historical anomaly involving a tiny area of coastal land within the EU could be solved by Madrid and London agreeing, perhaps with a joint sovereignty deal initially, a moderate idea rejected by Gibraltarians 10 years ago.  The rights of Gibraltarians are protected by the EU and retaining red pillar boxes hardly requires naval intervention. I don’t remember Britain threatening military action to prevent the Chinese retaking Hong Kong. I was there at the time and there was fury among the locals that their colonial overlord wouldn’t even give them passports to Britain. Why the difference with Gibraltar?

I ask because it seems to be there’s an opportunity for a bit of Scottish diplomacy here. If it’s the case that Madrid plans to veto Scottish membership of the EU, might their stance be softened by an indication from Edinburgh that it would support the opening of talks on the status of Gibraltar? This means a lot to Spain, it’s become a point of honour and I would imagine there would be barely suppressed glee if they found an ally within the British Isles with whom they could do business. It could really raise Scotland’s profile and, with many European countries uneasy at Britain’s carping and her colonial instincts, might change perceptions about the kind of EU neighbour Scotland could become.

Of course, we would be immediately branded disloyal and acting beyond our status by the same British government which I suspect would hit new heights of apoplexy but there’s nothing to stop an aspiring new state from forging its own external relations by flexing its nascent muscle. It would demonstrate to Europe that not everybody in these islands is tied to a faded glory.

Would it be appropriate for one small country seeking independence to act against what the local inhabitants would regard as another (relatively) independent nation?  One difference is that Gibraltar is actually part of the Spanish mainland entirely separate from the UK and is an historical anomaly from a time when we were regularly at war with Spain.  Scotland was regularly at war with England but did sign up to a treaty to come together. Scotland is not, like Gibraltar, seeking the protection of the UK and if Britain shared sovereignty with Spain or handed the Rock over, all that would actually change on the peninsula is the1000 Spanish workers not having to queue at a border to get to work.

I think it’s worth at least a preliminary discussion between the Scottish government and the Spanish authorities in Britain because that would put the wind up Whitehall – I presume they bug the FM’s phone.

(I don’t believe by the way that anybody will block Scotland’s EU membership by voting against. The only possibility is that, if my information is correct, there will be qualified majority voting which allows for example Spain to vote No in the knowledge it won’t prevent Scotland becoming a member).

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0 thoughts on “Rule Britannia

  1. I like the idea of British government apoplexy. It would be worth considering for that reason alone.

  2. Bravo! I agree lets give our 10% back to Spain. That will singe the Whitehall beards. Revenge for Drake etal.

  3. You naughty boy you Derek!

  4. innerbearsdenurchin

    Derek, there is an import tax on all goods, and as Gib produces really nothing, not even water, everything is taxed. There is no VAT.

  5. Anything to rattle imperialist cages is a good jibe, but there may be potential for a huff from Catalonia and we know only too well what they’re going through.

  6. Jim Mitchell is correct, Derek, you are being mischievous. It’s not nice to see two old maritime empires playing ‘jeux sans frontieres’ with cotton buds for weapons. Fear not for the aircraftless carriers – USA already completed trials with carrier-lauched and retrieved UCAV (Drones). Fox/Hammond no doubt aware of opportunities of ethics-lite possibilities.

    • Hong Kong was handed back because of the 100 year agreement with the Chinese.
      There’s no agreement with Spain over Gibraltar.
      Spain entered the territorial waters of the UK for 20 hours and refused to leave when challenged by the Royal Navy. There was no boarding of the Spanish vessel and arrest of the captain and crew. Something not right there.
      Spain is just playing politics. It has colonies of it’s own ( in Morroco etc ) which it refuses to ‘hand back’.
      It’s strange that you don’t believe in the self determination of the Gibraltarians who want to remain British yet believe ( as I do ) in the self determination of Scottish citizens to choose whether to remain in the UK.

  7. I think you could be heading for the Tower of London Derek!

  8. Yikes, let’s all sneer at the Gibraltarians right to self-determination!

    What a bizarre rant!

    Still, better out than in, eh Derek?

    P.S. Voting is not done by qualified majority voting when entry to the EU is being decided.

    One veto and the game’s a bogey.

    However, maybe that’s another EU rule the SNP imagine they will be able to magic away come that glorious day of national liberation…

  9. The folks in Gibraltar have the same right to self-determination that we do, although why they get EU exemptions is beyond me.

  10. Excellent as always Derek.
    Maybe HM Navy took umbridge at the Spanish conducting subsea “surveys” in the Med because only GCHQ are allowed to do this.Also,we could suggest to the Spanish that we will support their claim over Gibralter if they support ours for Berwick.

  11. Grahamski,

    If Derek is wrong and he may well be as he did state “if my information is correct” then can you please give me a link to where you found this information from?

    I am not saying I don’t believe you but it’s nice to see where the facts come from, many thanks,

  12. If you look at the Snowden information, you will see that Gibraltar plays a huge part of the global monitoring and surveillance network, e.g. practically all telephony and internet networking links for the middle east, far east, Australia, Africa and southern Europe pass through Gibraltar – this is a facet from the early days of telegraph (lower case) that relayed through Gibraltar.

    “Subsea Surveys” which led to the arrest of mysterious divers in the bay of Alexandria happened at the location of the SEA-ME-WE-4 internet link – which we later found out had been thoroughly tapped by UK/USA.

    (references: and

  13. Hong Kong was rented, Gibraltar was taken. The rock is a facet that gives the impression (or delusion) of Empire that is still prevalent in the minds of those that inhabit Westminster and Whitehall, the same feeling that the new carriers will give to little Bullingdon Boys of Britannia Rulz the Waves. The actual reason (it used to be Nimrods) for owning a runway next to some dusty flats on the arse end of Spain is the purpose of shuttling tax avoiders into their tax haven. The Government won’t really shut down tax havens because the millionnaire politicians feed of them as well (tip: shhh but they are also turning the City of London into an onshore tax haven as well).

  14. Grahamski – we all understand you don’t do irony but a wee laugh at Britannia’s pomposity may cheer up your day unless…….would that be treason. And those poor Hong Kongers – no use to mother England when the Chinese told them to get out!

  15. On the subject of anomalous enclaves, what about Berwick, Derek?

  16. If we do get independence are we not entitled to a pro rata share of Gibraltar and the Malvinas. Do these territories belong to Britain or do they belong to the people that live there or do they belong to England. Maybe one day England and Britain will be one and the same thing. Even the Orange paddies might have to let go one day.

  17. Whoa there Derek – there’s a lot more to Gibraltar than meets the eye. Spain has a very nasty government which is desperate for distractions and a raised profile in international affairs. So I imagine that innocent little survey boat was a precisely calibrated insult.

    Gibraltar apart, Spain has said “Scotland no problem: their independence referendum is legal. Catalonia no way – we are not handing over referendum powers, they will be breaking international law if they try anything, anyway we’ll veto their membership of EU, UNO, and break all their other toys, for ever and ever.” Sad thing is, they mean it. Not sure Scotland wants to touch Spain with a bargepole, frankly. And probably vice-versa.

    Catalonia has missed a trick in being the first to play the newly FIFA recognised (to Spanish fury) Gibraltar football team – maybe Scotland should give them a game and end up with an enemy for life (Spain) but also a friend for life (Catalonia).

  18. There is a curious parallelity between Spain and UK, with respect to occupying distant enclaves.

    Spain has two in North Africa of its own, both surrounded, not connected by a strip of land, to Morocco; Ceuta and Melilla.

    I am not supporting the right of sovereignty of the UK to Gibraltar but the Spanish position is at best hypocritical and at worst deflectionary from their major financial scandals and problems.

    Has Peter Mandelson set up a consultancy and has he Spain as a client?

  19. Interesting aside – Gib was originally a North African colony/fortification and only became part of Spain in 1462… it was then ceded to Britain in 1713 – meaning it’s been part of Britain longer than it’s ever been part of Spain.

  20. ‘an historical’ – you mean a historical – and you frae the borders tae.

    pedaristicaly yours but


    • Strange when, ages later, there’s this thought at the back of your mind that what you said wasn’t quite what you meant – and sure enough find that you meant another ‘ped’ entirely.

      Foot in mouth good style.


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