Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gibraltar: dire straits

Have you ever found that legal documents aren't worth the paper they are printed on? I'll let you think of your own examples. It may be a land dispute with a neighbour. It may be that the freedom of the city is meaningless when you try to graze your sheep on a roundabout. My example is the treaties of Utrecht which were written in 1713. Among other things they were supposed to stop France gaining an empire in Europe, but less than a hundred years later Napoleon had other ideas. Times change and Napoleon had the idea that the sword was mightier than the pen.

It so happens that Gibraltar was also handed over to Britain following the treaties at at Utrecht. This is fairly significant if you want world domination as control of Mediterranean shipping was fairly important at that time. Who said that history is written by the victors as the treaties hadn't stopped Britain's designs on empire building. We had won the war of Spanish succession and France had lost. We took Gibraltar because it was important for us to build our empire. Why was an empire bad for France and good for Britain? Well we won.

There is now a dispute between Gibraltar and Spain and my MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, David Morris has added his voice to the debate. There is no mention of territorial waters in the Utrecht documents but 3 nautical miles is widely accepted throughout the world. Two days ago David called for diplomatic pressure to be stepped up in order to 'prevent Spanish ships from encroaching into Gibraltar’s soverign territorial waters'.

Is David picking on Spanish ships or is he protecting Gibraltar from all international shipping? Well it's Gibraltar's waters so I presume he means the latter. If he does then I would also presume that he gives the same rights to Morocco. The Straits of Gibraltar are 7.7 nautical miles. If Gibraltar and Morocco both ban international shipping from their waters that leaves 1.7 nautical miles for the whole of the Mediterranean traffic.  Back in 1713 control of the Straits of Gibraltar was important even when the straits just gave access to the Med. Now, in conjunction with the Suez canal, they also give access to an important shortcut to the far east.

It is not acceptable to impose severe restrictions on international shipping but let's give David the benefit of the doubt and guess that he would allow shipping in Gibraltar's waters as long as it is alright with Gibraltar. This means that this dispute over territorial waters is actually about the much deeper dispute between Britain and Spain and the territorial rights over Gibraltar. We can legislate on top of legislation, as David is planning, to ban Spanish shipping which results in all shipping going through an extremely narrow gap or we can try to get along.  Diplomacy this isn't.

Change the world

P.S. I have just (7.30pm on the 20th Nov) found this article on David's Gibraltar Bill. It seems that Gibraltar's territorial waters could be 12 nautical miles from shore. Maybe David wants UK coastguard support to be based in Tangier.

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