I say, is this not the best fun ever? Suddenly, Hispanophobia is not just permissible, but virtually compulsory. And, as in 1588, we are again led by a Lord Howard, now championing the Gibraltarians. “I should count myself the coward if I left them, my Lord Howard,/To those Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain… Sink me the ship, Master Gunner… Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!”
Nor is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s most notable experiment with the style of William Topaz MacGonagall our only poetic inspiration: “Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand mile away,/(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)… “If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,/An’ drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago.” Right on, Henry! No auto-da-fé on Gibraltar! Keep the bullfight off the Rock! And, while we’re at it, let’s demand Calais back from the Frogs.
The Brexit “negotiations” have descended into farce, but the blame lies not in Madrid or London, but in Brussels. Every nation has some deeply felt historical grievance gnawing at its collective consciousness: in the case of Spain, it is the foreign occupation of Gibraltar, an integral part of the Spanish mainland – literally, Spanish soil. Every Spaniard, regardless of political orientation, feels strongly about Gibraltar. For an insight into those sentiments we should ask ourselves how we would feel if Dover were occupied by France.
The Gibraltar problem is an unfortunate legacy and no rational person could deny Spain has a strong moral case. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, it may be resolved with mutual respect. But the non-negotiable reality is that, so long as the majority of the inhabitants wish to remain British subjects, there can be no question of a change in the governance of the Rock, least of all in the course of Brexit negotiations – the most inappropriate forum imaginable for resolving such an issue.
What happened to Brussels’ insistence that the EU would present a united phalanx of 27 nations speaking as one, now that it has sponsored a single member state – Spain – in pursuing a contentious national interest at the expense of coherent negotiations? It is clear that mischief-makers in Brussels have exploited Spain’s sense of grievance and encouraged its government to throw the grenade of Gibraltar into the Brexit discussions. This is further evidence of the bad faith of the EU negotiators. There are many other examples, including the disingenuous demand for an enormous exit fee from Britain.
On 31 December, 2015 Britain’s cumulative contributions to the European Union passed the psychologically and fiscally totemic meridian of half-a-trillion pounds. Our contributions, which began at a more reasonable annual level of £187m when we joined the EEC 44 years ago, have soared in tandem with the extravagant ambitions of that sprawling Ruritania, to around £20bn today. We are the second largest donor to the European project and have always been a net contributor, which is the principal reason why Donald Tusk is missing us already.
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Now the EU is demanding we stump up a further £52bn as the price of Brussels’ permission for us to depart. Even more outrageously, it insists we must make a commitment not to cut taxes and regulations post-Brexit. Why does the EU think we are leaving? To reclaim our sovereignty is the evident answer, and sovereignty does not entail a foreign entity exercising a veto over our fiscal arrangements. After Brexit the EU will have no more right to dictate fiscal policy to Britain than to New Zealand. At present, the 100 most expensive EU regulations cost the UK £27.4bn a year. Why would we want a millstone like that hung round our necks forever?
The Gibraltar-style emotive issue of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is being presented in a style that ignores the harsh reality that we cannot claim to have regained control of our borders if unchecked migration is allowed between the two parts of Ireland. There are real issues to be addressed there – courteously and sympathetically, but firmly and realistically too.
The Gibraltar distraction may be farcical, but it is also illuminating. It demonstrates beyond peradventure, along with the other absurd hares started by the Brussels clique, that the EU is not negotiating in good faith. These are not serious people. They never thought Britain would vote for Brexit; now that it has done so they are showing themselves incapable of adjusting to that reality. Their heads are in the sand.
From the beginning of the so-called negotiations, the EU has sought arrogantly to lay down the rules of engagement, the agenda and the timetable unilaterally, besides imposing vexatious demands that cannot be taken seriously. Some of us warned from the beginning that this would happen, that we should not even attempt to go down the road of Article 50. It is likely Theresa May was intuitively acknowledging this when she said: “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
It is surprising how little attention commentators have paid to the fact that in her Article 50 letter the Prime Minister spoke of “discussions”, not of “negotiations”. Even within the establishment there is a growing recognition that EU leaders are showing themselves so deluded we may have to abandon any attempt to reach a Brexit deal, cf. The Daily Telegraph leader on 31 March: “Theresa May must be ready to walk away from the EU.”
The Gibraltar debacle is an example of the EU’s cynical manipulation creating hostility, even talk of war, between two European countries in pursuit of its own malevolent agenda. This is the same organisation that, while pretending to have assured peace in Europe for 44 years (pace Nato), provoked the only conflict now raging in Europe, in the Ukraine. At the same time, those who invoke the self-determination of the Gibraltarians would be well-advised to stop condemning Russian “annexation” of the Crimea, endorsed by a large majority of its population.
We shall not go to war with Spain. Post-Brexit we shall cultivate warm friendship with one of Europe’s greatest civilisations, the land of Cervantes, Velazquez, Victoria, Goya, and countless other geniuses, free of the mischief-making of the Brussels manipulators. We shall never leave Europe, the cultural leader of the world, but we must leave the EU, sooner rather than later. Instead of squandering two years on Brussels’ infantile games, we should set a deadline of September for serious progress on Brexit, failing which we should walk away and trade with the EU, as with other countries, under WTO rules.