19 September, 2006


The Foreign Office and Spain have signed a deal over Gibraltar which has attracted favourable comment in the press, including both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. However,experience teaches us that, when the Foreign Office does a deal, it is often a mistake to take it at face value.

For this analysis, I will use the Daily Telegraph's report, although the Guardian's reporting is so similar that both papers have obviously swallowed the FO line cast at the same briefing. Three areas need to be highlighted briefly: territorial sovereignty; border control; and taxation. First, territorial sovereignty:

...In what will be seen as a symbolic coup for Spain, the Spanish flag will, for the first time in more than 50 years, be flown on the British territory.
So the Spanish flag will fly over Gibraltar in a "symbolic coup". What symbol does a national flag represent if not national sovereignty. The sub-text is clear: Spain is claiming de facto the sovereign right to be on this territory and the FO is not arguing the point.

I will deal with border control and immigration together.
...A new [airport] terminal will have entrances on both sides of the border so passengers and cargo travelling to and from Spain can bypass Gibraltar controls and taxes.
Although border control and taxation are two vital ingredients of any worthwhile definition of sovereignty, in certain circumstances, on Gibaltarian territory, Spain will not be subject to local taxes and immigration controls. Again the sub-text is clear: this small part of Gibraltar is to be regarded de facto as a part of Spain.

Thus the thin end of the wedge is inserted. The principle that Spain has some claim to sovereignty over the Rock, however tenuous,has been conceded with the obvious danger is that, in future meetings between the UK and Spain, the FO will find it much easier to begin to ceding that sovereignty.

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