Queuing in the heat of Majorca for a car parking space at our local supermarket is no joke so I can understand why motorists twiddling their thumbs for up to five hours each day at Gibraltar’s sticky and sweltering border must be thoroughly miffed. As they sweat it out, nursing bottles of warm mineral water and muttering darkly, they must surely wonder how things have come to such a pass.
In fact it’s incredible to think that in the space of two weeks, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s beleaguered Prime Minister, has managed to create an escalating diplomatic nightmare between the UK and Spain that shows no sign of abating. Worse still is that he appears to be drawing others into the vortex including Argentina, the EU and United Nations rather like a mad magician trying to perform a tablecloth trick and dropping all the crockery in the process.
One seriously has to wonder whether the heat has finally got to him- political heat, that is. Facing a deepening crisis as a political scandal continues to gnaw at the ankle of his party, Partido Popular (PP), Rajoy must have been frantically looking for a new toy to throw from his pram just as Gibraltar set about creating an artificial offshore reef in disputed waters. The decision, seen as an offensive move by Spain, offered an ideal distraction from internal political woes and a chance for a little macho posturing in order to garner support from the Spanish electorate. But so far it’s failed as has the central government’s attempt to use smuggling as a limp justification for the sudden rigorous border controls.
The point is that few Spaniards I’ve met care one jot about the rocky little outcrop sitting at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. They don’t envy the 30,000 inhabitants their 300 Barbary macaques or their British way of life. They accept that – following two referendums – 98 per cent of the colony’s residents currently wish to remain in British hands. Besides, they acknowledge that Spain itself has clung onto two minor territories, Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa. What they do care about is getting their own economy straight and achieving political transparency in Spain.
Meanwhile as the UK flexes its muscles by deploying a fleet of warships to Southern Spain, another little problem has sprung up in Rajoy’s backyard in the form of Alfred Bosch from the Republican ERC party in Catalonia. Bosch and his supporters have been petitioning for a referendum on self-rule in Catalonia and have pledged solidarity with the Gibraltarians. To have Bosch crawling out of the woodwork and milking the situation for all its worth while re-igniting the flames about self-autonomy for the region, is quite frankly, the sort of headache Rajoy doesn’t need right now.
And as the dispute rages on we can but hope that the Spanish Prime Minister stops to remind himself that about one million Britons have made his country their home and that at least 11 million British holidaymakers visit Spain annually thereby greatly assisting the local economy. With unemployment at 26 per cent there really are more crucial issues at stake than going after a lump of land that measures 2 ½ sq miles. For Spain’s sake these hostilities must urgently be nipped in the bud or Rajoy’s reflection will soon be staring back at him from the mirror and saying in a salute to Hardy, “Well here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”
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