We really have little choice

Carmen Gomez

It was in 2011, that the then Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister said that Spain could not stop the arrival of submarines in Gibraltar, but that Britain as a partner and ally, could adopt a more constructive and cooperative attitude. Spain, a country that has never worried at paralyzing the community to protect her position over Gibraltar on air liberalization; external frontiers control etc; argued what right we had to export bilateral problems to a multilateral organization such as NATO, where decisions had to be taken unanimously; this after they themselves had brought the proceedings on maritime and air routes to and from Gibraltar. 

Then along came Tony Blair who intimidated at a NATO summit, that Gibraltar’s interests would be fully safeguarded if Spain were to play a greater role in NATO. According to Peter Torry, Britain’s ambassador to Madrid in 2002, Spanish troops would be allowed to use the British military base in Gibraltar under any agreement about the Rock’s future; as it was in principle, open to all NATO allies.

Rock recovery

When in 1996 Spain announced it wanted to become a full member of NATO‘s integrated military structure, Felipe Gonzalez presented his “Decalogue on peace and security policy” for joining which was subject to conditions; with point seven highlighting “recovery of Gibraltar.” The UK could still veto Spain’s accession to the NATO command structure, if matters were not settled to the government’s satisfaction; but they didn’t.

If truth be told they have never to my knowledge, ever used any veto against Spain in their dealings with them. As per usual, the British Government refrained from any further blocking of progress and this was hailed by Spain as a diplomatic success. It is a fact that the UK has on occasions agreed to Spain’s request for EC legislation to exclude Gibraltar, in order not to prevent the adoption of proposals; the main legislative items being measures relating to the single market in aviation, subject to them not applying to Gibraltar airport.

Sir Stanley, in his day, commented on the Spanish continued refusal to allow NATO aircraft and navy vessels into Spanish airspace or waters when they were going to and from Gibraltar; saying, “let us forget about these ridiculous restrictions; get them removed;” which of course they never were, nor have been since.

However, re the Cordoba agreement which he saw as a huge step forward in putting relations over Gibraltar between Britain and Spain on a sensible and constructive basis; as if there is anything sensible to be found in Spain’s treatment of agreements; he went further and asked “Can you tell us whether ongoing negotiations are taking place to produce a NATO military equivalent of the Cordoba agreement?” At which time Jim Murphy, who was then MP Shadow Secretary of State for International Development answered “whether it is equivalent or parallel to Cordoba, there are certainly ongoing efforts to bring a solution to this.” He then went off to become a Public affairs consultant; and we are none the wiser on this matter, I believe.


Spain as we know since the days of Franco has been most amenable to the Russian fleet. It all started with an agreement signed by him with Moscow for the use by the Russian fishing fleet of the Canaries and Ceuta; except these then came accompanied by so called scientific ships riddled with antennas, with possible consequences on Gibraltar’s security. Russia needs a port of support on this side of the Mediterranean and Spain, the NATO ally, recently renewed its welcome to the visits from Russia’s navy. The Dubna, with Marshall Ustinov on board arrived in Ceuta firing a salvo of 12 shots; after which civil and military authorities attended a reception on board. Allowing Russia to use its port is advantageous to Ceuta’s economy; but there are those who believe that Ceuta has become an unofficial Russian naval base.


So, with all this talk of NATO at present somewhat sidelined by the idea of a European Army being mooted by the EU, it makes me naturally wonder about our situation and where, if this materialized, it would leave us? When Dr Garcia gave an address in April 2017 for exiting the EU, amongst other things he said that although brexit was expected to have little direct impact on military issues, our future post-brexit relationship with Spain would have strategic implications. With Britain’s only deep water port in the Mediterranean and a military owned airfield, Gibraltar, he said, would remain an important Forward Mounting base for the UK. “The UK considers that, having this on Gibraltar, it is 1,000 miles nearer the action;” adding that the fact would not change, brexit or no brexit.


Former commander of UK joint forces Command General Sir Richard however says that a structure parallel to NATO of European forces, as has been suggested by the EU, is not possible. He suggests that Europe should take that proposed 2% GDP of all member states to be spent on defense and use that to integrate further with NATO.

The curious thing is though that at this particular time when America is at odds with Iran and Russia with Ukraine; with some talking about the world being on the verge of a global war; apart from talk of a European army, none of this impending military action, has translated into European countries taking a serious interest in defending themselves.

It seems that at present everyone appears dulled by brexit incoherence’s and can’t make any headway one way or the other. We have little choice but to go along the road, however bumpy, that fate, or our Mother country, has chosen for us.