There is an interesting precedent for the eruption of Gibraltar into EU negotiations (Future of Gibraltar now at stake in Brexit talks, 1 April).
In June 1987, as the EU transport council approached agreement on the first stage of air service liberalisation, Spain suddenly demanded that Gibraltar be excluded from the package because Madrid did not recognise British sovereignty over the land on which the airport was built. The dispute was immediately raised to the level of foreign ministers, but the Spaniards refused to give ground. There were two elements in the eventual compromise, which followed six months of intensive bilateral negotiations between Britain and Spain. Spain was granted permission to build a terminal for Spanish passengers on the northern side of the airport, and all EU aviation measures affecting Gibraltar were to be adopted without prejudice to the respective positions on sovereignty.
If this tale has any lessons for Brexit, it is that such confrontations can be resolved by patient and skilled diplomacy, but such negotiations take time, and much will depend on whether the pressure to compromise is felt most strongly in Madrid or in London. In the present case it looks as if delay could be more of a problem for Mrs May’s government than for Spain or for the EU as a whole.
Director of international aviation, Department of Transport, 1983-87
• In the coverage of the reference to Gibraltar in the EU guidelines on negotiating the UK exit I am surprised that nobody has pointed out that this is illegal under the EU treaties. Article 50 requires a “qualified majority” of EU states to approve any leaving agreement. There is absolutely no provision to give any individual state special rights over any aspect of the agreement.
If the EU cannot be trusted to abide by its own treaties then there is really no point in negotiating with it. The suggestion that Gibraltar should be treated differently to the rest of the UK is illegal and dishonourable. We should refuse to negotiate any financial settlement with the EU unless it agrees to abide by article 50 and remove the discrimination against Gibraltar in the negotiation guidelines.
Neil Addison (Barrister)
New Bailey Chambers, Liverpool
• Lord Howard has made frankly xenophobic and shamefully jingoistic comparisons between the Brexit-induced situation in Gibraltar and a war from 35 years ago in the Falklands on the grounds that both involve a “Spanish-speaking country” against a “woman prime minister” (Report, 3 April).
A more appropriate parallel would be between the current UK administration and that of the relatively recent Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández De Kirchner, a divisive figure who bullied media opponents, denied that her government’s policies damaged the economy, and used disputed territories as a convenient distraction from homemade problems. Does that remind anyone else of the strategy seemingly followed by Lord Howard and his fellow Brexiters?
Dr Robin Rumney
• Michael Howard is telling only half the story about the Falklands campaign – and the second half, at that. In 1981 Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, including then defence secretary John Knott, decided, despite advice to the contrary, to withdraw and scrap the Antarctic patrol vessel HMS Endurance – the only Royal Navy presence in the South Atlantic – as part of defence spending cuts.
This was interpreted by the Argentinian junta as evidence that the UK was no longer interested in defending its claim to Las Malvinas, and they invaded. There was shock in Whitehall; the foreign secretary Lord Carrington resigned, because he saw it as a failure on his and his department’s side; and the British task force was dispatched.
Despite the hundreds of unnecessary deaths and injuries following from this debacle, Margaret Thatcher’s previously falling ratings were boosted and she went on to win the next general election. It is sincerely to be hoped that a similar scenario doesn’t follow from this latest failure of UK government foresight and planning.
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire
• Before the “Falklands solution” grabs the public imagination too persuasively, let us try to see Gibraltar from the Spanish point of view.
Britain seized Gibraltar from Spain by force in an 18th-century war. Since 1713 it has been held by the British by force alone. The Spanish have never acquiesced in that land grab.
A comparison with the status of Dover might be helpful. If a Spanish fleet had seized that town by force, and maintained a garrison there since 1713, we Britishers would still rightly nourish a sense of injustice. Simple geographical continuity of land is a relevant factor in determining national boundaries. The anomalous situation of Hong Kong was rationalised in 1997. Britain did not threaten armed force on that occasion.
Dr Michael Winter
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