A year ago this week the Spanish government imposed stringent controls at the border with Gibraltar, the territory ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. The checks, ostensibly a crackdown on tobacco smuggling (cigarettes are much cheaper in Gibraltar), came after the Rock’s government dumped 70 concrete blocks in contested waters in order to create an artificial reef and regenerate fish stocks. The controls are still in force and produce at times long and arbitrary queues of cars and pedestrians on either side of the border.
The PP’s closing down of the Trilateral Process for Dialogue in which the UK, Spain and Gibraltar agreed to discuss all matters of mutual interest except for sovereignty, the stepped up border controls and increased maritime stand-offs have done nothing to further Madrid’s claim to the territory. Instead, its policy has created an absolute absence of dialogue and a siege mentality among Gibraltarians reminiscent of that when the Franco regime closed the border in 1969.
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, was in Madrid earlier this month and met with virtually all of Spain’s political parties with the notable exception of the ruling Popular Party (PP), which gave him a wide berth.
The Spanish government could do with following the advice given by the Duke of Edinburgh to former King Juan Carlos in 1977. According to a declassified US Department of State document, the Duke told Juan Carlos that “when one wished to gain the hand of an attractive lady, one should woo her with flowers and the like. And if Spain wished to have the situation in Gibraltar evolve more to its liking, it should begin to woo the Gibraltarians.” It is never too late.