War with Spain over Gibraltar?


Normally I try to switch off on holiday. I am in the Canary Islands with my family. When I switched on my Twitter feed I nearly choked on my cafe con leche after reading Lord Howard’s comments about Gibraltar.

Today was the 35th Anniversary of the start of the Falklands war and should have been a day to remember the dead and learn from the past. Yet instead Lord Howard used an interview on a Sunday politics program to remind people of what Thatcher did in 1982 and support a similar reaction in relation to Gibraltar.

This was wrong at so many levels. As my wife who is from Argentina said, how can someone of his experience make a comparison between the military junta of Argentina in 1982 and the democratically elected government of Mariano Rajoy.

Secondly, we want to set up trade deals with the EU and other Latin American countries. Does Lord Howard think that being the class room bully  will help us to enter this wonderful global world we are told by Brexiteers was created on June 24, 2016 ?

Thirdly, there is the issue of people. There are 300,000 British citizens living in Spain. Did Lord Howard stop to think for one second about those people or indeed the Spanish who work in the U.K. treating the sick, teaching in our schools and doing many other invaluable tasks ?

I am told many times by Brexiteers to stop doing my country down. Well Lord Howard has done a fine job of that today. By comparison as I watched Spanish television I noted a calm and measured response.

Similarly the Telegraph headlined with a piece on our military readiness in the event of a war with Spain. A totally ridiculous piece given Spain is a NATO ally and has no intention of invading Gibraltar.

I will enjoy the rest of my holiday in the wonderful country which is Spain, but next time will have to turn off the news to avoid being reminded of the little Britain I have left behind for a break.

* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. He is a Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding the local council and MPs to account.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '17 - 5:59pm

    I also try and avoid UK news when I am on holiday. Viewed at a distance, from the Continent, it is either depressing or silly.

  • ethicsgradient 3rd Apr '17 - 6:06pm

    I was going to comment on the other Gibraltar article but left it, but seeing as it is a topic f interest I’ll add my views.

    Firstly Micheal Howard is a numpty. He is helping no one sabre rattling over the issue and as this article says there is a world of difference between a military Junta trying a land grab and a dispute between european first world democracies.


    What the hell are Spain doing shoe-horning in which is a bi-lateral territorial dispute into brexit negotiations? It should clearly not be any part of negotiations of the UK exacting from the EU. It is clearly Spain trying to push a national interest instead of the common interests of the EU27.

    Further I do not hear any of the cries of criticism from the lib dems over this. Seemingly falling back into the “the EU can do no wrong. the EU s always right…” . Gibraltar voted 99% to 1% to remain a British dependency. Do liberals believe in self determination or not? Yes they voted 96% to remain in the EU too. The logical process though would be to exit with the UK then hold a referendum to leave the UK and the apply to rejoin the EU.

    Spain has caused this incident not the UK where is the liberal condemnation of this action?

  • David Blake 3rd Apr '17 - 6:08pm

    The BBC seems to have a habit of interviewing former ministers from years and years ago on all sorts of things. Most of them were idiots then and are idiots now.

  • Richard Hall 3rd Apr '17 - 6:11pm

    We haven’t even left the EU, yet instead of fostering togetherness with an institution we will be leaving we have senior politicians sabre rattling its member states.

    The worry is that the approach from the Conservatives will be designed to get good headlines in the right wing press, instead of getting a good deal with the EU, this is just one example of this counterproductive strategy.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Apr '17 - 6:25pm

    Again, Michael Howard was wrong, and the title of the Telegraph article was inflammatory, but newspapers should be asking questions about whether we are militarily capable of defending Gibraltar. We need to be able to defend Gibraltar and the Falklands at the same time. But this is very expensive, so we need to make sure our overseas territories are contributing enough towards it. We could even enter some kind of peace negotiations with Argentina and Spain, but this could only be with the full support of the islanders.

    The attitude of the retired admiral makes me think of the French generals before the Franco-German war of 1870-1 who “blinded by national pride, were confident of victory.”. Big questions to answer about our territories.

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '17 - 6:38pm

    Eddie Sammond, trying to whip up nationalist emotions against a non-existent threat is the sort of tactic Putin would use. Gibralter belonged to the UK long before the EU existed.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Apr '17 - 7:29pm

    Yes we are no longer the military strength we were. The Tories do ‘fiddle the figures’ of how much we spend on Defence. The Brexiteers and Tories do dream of empire and power whilst in reality we are now the 7th largest economy, we have slipped down the ratings. Yes there will be a lot more of this rubbish as reality sinks in of our decline in the World and the EU will be a scapegoat. Equally we must not worship the EU, it has got its faults. Yes rejoin eventually but put it on the backburner for the voter will be more interested in what effects them day to day, ie jobs, bill paying, health, day to day concerns. The economy and us building up to be seen as a government in waiting should be our priority.

  • Nom de Plume 3rd Apr '17 - 7:52pm

    The EU’s position has been quite clear -no negotiations until after Article 50. Entirely logical, up to that point the UK was still part of the EU. No parallel talks either. All straight down the line, as per the rules. The 9 months was the UK’s decision. Negotiations can now begin. What is there to condemn? Who needs alternative facts, when you can have alternative reality?

  • ethicsgradient 4th Apr '17 - 3:56am


    This telegraph article sums up my thoughts on this perfectly. I could not write it better.


    The Gibraltar issue has always been a bilateral issue between the UK and Spain. The issue existed before the EU was even created. Gibratarians have consistently expressed their self-determined will to remain a UK dependency. it remains a bilateral issue and not something that should be brought into the Brexit negotiations, let alone Spain being given an effective ‘right of veto’ over how the deal will relate to Gibraltar.

    I reiterate it is Spanish self interest that has caused this situation to flair up. Where is the liberal condemnation of this? Or criticism of EU horsetrading that ha allowed this this to arise? Well where is it?

    I am libertarian possible even a liberal. Above all though I am a pragmatist. It seems to be some ideological dogma in the Lib Dems which states that you cannot criticize the EU or the EU can never be wrong. Or they are all jolly god chaps and wouldn’t stoop to shoe-horning in some nationalistic self interest polices that are against the common good of their own people. Or in this case sensitive negotiations.

    Lib Dem Dogma: 2 legs bad, EU good…

  • Ethicsgradient
    Spain are rising the issue because they can. We have placed ourselves in a weak position and they are taking advantage of it. That’s real politics, you can complain about it and so can the Telegraph but that is unlikely to change the reality we face. Reality seems to be a foreign world to Brexiteers, in the real world the temptation to take advantage of rivals and we now are rivals to the EU will be hard to resist. As to the EU being good it’s better than the alternative but as with all large organisations it has features that are far from good, but then unlike you I don’t see the world in black and white.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Apr '17 - 7:53am

    Of course, Britain ended up giving Hong Kong back to that fantastically liberal regime of the People’s Republic of China with the full support of the people of that colony, didn’t they?

    Isn’t it about time Spain gave up all claim to Ceuta. Mellila, Perejil, the Penon du Albucemas, the Penon de Velez de la Gomera and the three Chaferinas islands?

  • The negotiations around the border between Spain and Gibraltar will be very tricky, and we are to expect Spain to stir the pot a bit, Tory old-timers to rattle some sabres, and for the tabloids to over-react, but it’s come as a shock to me just how many other groups have jumped on this for a bit of drama, and of course to prove how terrible the “other side” are.

    We need to be more sensible, or we’ll have a repeat of this kind of nonsense every weekend, and it won’t help us to make a compelling case for keeping the good bits of the EU, nor will it help the eager Brexiteers in Government to get us a good deal. It also means that our Government can get on with the day to day work of government without the required level of scrutiny.

    Constitutional matters are important, but they should not be given so much prominence that it lets everyone off the hook when it comes to the bread and butter issues.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Apr '17 - 9:10am

    The EU, in its response to the notification letter, made two specific statements concerning the land borders. Ireland is highly, Gibraltar totally dependent on the openness of these land borders. The UK ignored these problems all the way from the referendum campaign to notification. The Ireland statement effectively means that the Irish Republic will be given a decisive say (call it a veto) on future border arrangements. The same is true of Spain concerning Gibraltar.

    What is so scandalous about this? The EU is, in response to a unilateral and ill-conceived UK-decision to disrupt all these established and beneficial arrangements, devolving these border matters to the affected countries. I always understood that Brexiteers were tired of central Brussels decisionmaking, and wanted more national and local autonomy. Now the EU does exactly that, and it is wrong again?

  • Kieran Seale 4th Apr '17 - 9:40am

    The Brexiteers are betraying the people of Gibraltar – leaving the EU will do enormous damage to them. Howard’s comments and today’s ridiculous Sun front page need to be seen in that context. In a word, it is guilt.

  • How much of a democracy is Spain?

    After Franco’s death, free elections were allowed in Spain in order to facilitate Spain’s entry into what was then the EEC. To the Spanish right, democracy is an inconvenience. It exists solely to sustain Spain’s EU membership. I say “free elections”, but they have only ever been semi-free, because the Spanish state has banned political parties on occasions, including Herri Batasuna and Euskal Herritarrok.

    Spain continues to occupy Euskal Herria against the will of the people who live there (whose consent has never once been given). As recently as a decade ago, the Spanish state closed a newspaper, Euskaldunon Egunkaria, and imprisoned its editor on entirely trumped-up charges. The Basque and Catalan people are forbidden from holding referenda on independence (unlike the Scottish people).

    The joker in the pack is the United States, which has a history of giving succour to the Spanish right. Back in the 1950s, when the European democracies treated the Franco dictatorship as a pariah, President Eisenhower undertook a state visit. Trump may well instruct May to hand Gibraltar over to Spain. If he does, May will obey Trump’s order with utmost servility (the posturing of Michael Howard notwithstanding).

  • Kieran Seale

    “The Brexiteers are betraying the people of Gibraltar – leaving the EU will do enormous damage to them.”

    The people of Gibraltar have lived with an open border with Spain and a closed one. Yes they would prefer it to be open, but the bottom line is it’s a very wealthy British Overseas Territory and will continue to be regardless of what the EU do. Leaving the EU will be an inconvenience, but it will not cause them enormous damage.

  • Whilst I totally disagree with the sabre rattling approach, in answer to your wife’s question “how can someone of his experience make a comparison between the military junta of Argentina in 1982 and the democratically elected government of Mariano Rajoy”

    I think there are a couple of comparisons to make. The Junta used the invasion to try and take peoples minds off their internal economic and political woes. Spain is in a terrible state economically and is desperate to stop the Catalan people seeking independence. As we know from our own country, a little jingoism goes a long way. Anyone who knows Gib knows that every now and then the Spanish will provoke a low level altercation through an incursion into Gibraltar’s terrotory or by creating havoc at the border. These are roundly cheered by those Spaniards who don’t suffer as a result, i.e. Those who travel to Gib to work each day…

    Mention their own territories on North Africa and they will tell you the two situations are completely different of course..

    The other clear comparison is that the wishes of the peoples of the Falklands and those of Gibraltar are ignored in both cases. Having travelled to the Falklands and Gibraltar on numerous occasions the wishes of those that live there are very clear and should be respected.

  • @Tony Dawson
    Hong Kong was given back as the lease expired not by choice. The fact that more freedoms exist there (albeit limited and imperfect) is testament to Chris Patten’s success as Governor (’92 – ’97). It was feared when he took over that Hong Kong would simply become part of the PRC and lose all semblance of freedom. I imagine the people there, and I haven’t been since ’92, would prefer the current situation to that the rest of the PRC’s inhabitants suffer.

  • “I reiterate it is Spanish self interest that has caused this situation to flair up. “
    So nothing to do with the British self interest of Brexit then…

    Welcome dear Bexiteer’s to the real world where things don’t go to plan and the exercise of due diligence and diplomacy are necessary.

  • Martin Clarke 4th Apr '17 - 12:11pm

    Whilst I agree that Lord Howards comments were completely unacceptable, it seems to me that a lot of remainers consider the EU to be some sort of perfect Jesus Christ/Nelson Mandela like figure that can do no wrong. In the case of Gibraltar the EU are totally in the wrong and it harms the remainers cause to pretend otherwise.

  • Brexiteers meet reality and blame it on EU, no change there then. Meanwhile reality rolls on.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright – I understand your point, I do try and restrain myself, but sometimes it is too tempting, especially with known UK relationship hot potato’s:
    Argentina and the Falkland’s
    Spain and Gibraltar
    Greece and the Egin Marbles
    Most of the rest of the world, and our former empire… 🙂

    I’m amused to be considered a “Remainer fundamentalist”; personally, I’m strongly on the “reform the EU” side of Remain and believe that many of our problems (with the EU) actually lie at Westminster. The ironic thing about Brexit is that including David Cameron’s renegotiation prior to the referendum and now the Brexit negotiations, it would seem that Westminster is finally getting serious about talking to both the EU and to the leaders of it’s individual member nations; shame the various governments didn’t do this, decades back… Also use each treaty negotiation as an opportunity to engage with the public, rather than use Westminster trickery to push each EU treaty through Parliament with as little debate as possible…

  • For those that doubt Spain’s continued provocation, yesterday they sent a warship into Gibraltar’s territorial waters. An event that happens at least once a month. Howard may have been ill advised, but where is the condemnation of Spain?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Apr '17 - 6:20pm

    Yes to Ian and Mark, the party , Sirs Graham Watson and Simon Hughes, and many members and representaives , have a good track record on Gibralter , the Falklands and matters of overwhelming self determination.

    This Brexit debacle is causing some of our leadership to lose the plot !

  • Spain in it’s present form simply has no reason to exist. It’s an anachronistic throwback to imperial times holding large areas of the Iberian peninsula under its control in defiance of the will of the majorities in those areas.

    We should give full support to the right to self determination of the majorities in Catalonia and the Basque country who want independence from Madrid, continue calling out their failure to recognise the rights of the Kosovans to self-determination and of course, we should back the 99% in Gibraltar all the way.

  • Lorenzo, you talk about “a good track record on (sic) Gibralter” ?

    As the Tories plan a war with Spain – do you think we should watch out for Spaniards mapping out our rail network. Do you reckon that’s what Portillo’s been up to over the last few years ? I know he didn’t get on with Howard, so you never know.

    Careless talk costs lives.

  • @Richard S – “Spain in it’s present form simply has no reason to exist. It’s an anachronistic throwback to imperial times”

    I suspect outsiders looking at the UK could come to a similar conclusion…

  • @Roland, that’s true – but there aren’t many people around now who would take the view that if it’s in the British Isles it should be ruled by London, regardless of what the people there want (in 1916 attitudes were different of course).

    It seems pretty mainstream in Spain however that Catalonia, the Basque country and Gibraltar should be run from Madrid regardless of whether people want it.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • David Evans
    David (Raw) - I wasn't commenting on Murina's performance, but on the poorness of the script she had been given. The comments provided like “lazer like focus...
  • Tom Arms
    Jeff, first of all, let me make it clear that De Santis's lower corporate taxes have attracted businesses to Florida. That is true. But Disneyworld is directly ...
  • Rob Parsons
    @Peter 6.02 pm If Germany is not buying gas from Russia, that means there's more for the rest of us, therefore the price goes down not up - I assume the law of...
  • Richard O'Neill
    De Santis is less dangerous of the two. He doesn't inspire a cult like following threatening American Democracy....
  • Paul R
    @Duncan Brack Unfortunately, my comments are not nonsense. They are entirely accurate. There is no commitment to rejoining the EU - at any stage - in the pol...