Imagine the political volcano which would erupt if David Cameron were to announce that the City of Dublin was, in fact, not legitimately part of the Republic of Ireland; that it was historically part of England and England is where it should return to. The consequences of such a statement would be, quite literally, explosive. There would, of course, be unchained anger on the streets of Dublin and throughout the Republic of Ireland. Sectarian violence would probably flare in Northern Ireland and towns across the UK and, possibly even the US, would see major demonstrations. Scotland would protest, as would Wales, the EU and UN would condemn. Political chambers and the news media would be digesting this story until the likely resignation – and entry into some witness protection programme – of Cameron.
The reason for such an eventuality? Claiming foreign territories on the basis of some historical colonisation or elusive national mythology, without allowing for national self-determination, is wrong. People matter more than territories; Europe in the 21st century is not the same as Europe in the 17th where a leader could embody a state – l'état, c'est moi – without even the slightest input from the governed. Thankfully, those days are over. Or at least they should be.
Spain’s PM Mariano Rajoy, thinks differently. He is comfortable bullying Gibraltar, delegitimising the nation and claiming it as Spanish. All of a sudden the now infamous 1713 Treaty of Utrecht is back under the spotlight and its clauses consuming peoples’ time and patience, European territoriality is back on the table and intra-European suspicions are eroding the spirit of the European Communities which maintained continental harmony since the dark days of the Cold War. All this for some cheap political gains on his embattled home front where unemployment is rife and social stability in tatters. Gibraltar cannot fix Spain, only Spain can do that and Rajoy would be better off addressing his nation’s ailments rather than trying to divert attention to a trumped up crisis which he cannot control.
Rajoy is, of course, not alone. He is in good company with Khamenei who is unabashed in claiming Bahrain for Iran, de Kirchner and her Falkland fantasies and the Chinese Communist Party which lays claim to Taiwan.
Such people and ideas exist. That cannot be helped. However, the international community has a responsibility to end the custom of large states bullying the small. Gibraltar has every right to exist as is. In 2002, its people voted in favour of continued British rule. The margin; 17900:187 or 98.48%:1.03%. The numbers speak for themselves. Gibraltar is British and its people wish to remain British, it is as much a part of Britain as Dublin is Irish. Any change to that status is both illegal and morally suspect. Rajoy – whose country includes the cities of Melilla and Ceuta on the African mainland – must respect the national self-determination of Gibraltans and get on with governing his own state.
The centennial of WWI is only a year away, offering an opportunity to reflect and evaluate how far we have come in the quest to bring real, sustainable peace to Europe and beyond. For a long while it seemed Europe had managed. Now, with British warships having to be deployed to Gibraltar in order to deter Spanish intransigence and threats, it seems that the dream of Europe may have been just that.