Ships are a visible sign that Gibraltar remains British

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In an important symbolic display of Gibraltar’s Britishness yesterday, three Royal Navy ships sailed into the territory.

The boats were already due to be training in the Mediterranean, but their arrival in the region took on added significance in light of the tensions with Spain which have erupted.

The controversy began over a reef that Gibraltar constructed in, it says, an attempt to regenerate marine life, but which Spanish fishermen say cuts them off from rich fishing grounds.

Madrid escalated the dispute massively by introducing vindictive border checks which left people passing in and out of Gibraltar suffering long delays in sweltering heat.

In declining to rule out retaliatory action against Spain such as disrupting tourism, London has shown welcome resolve.

This is a sharp change from the time, a few years ago, when the UK was prepared to consider joint sovereignty for Gibraltar.

There is a simple principle that many groups of people who are unfriendly to Britain struggle to accept: that of consent.

To such an overwhelming degree as to be extraordinary, the population of Gibraltar wishes to remain British.

Likewise the people of the Falklands.

Just because a population is small, or remote from its mainland, does not mean that it cannot be part of another nation.

If it did, then Hawaii would be illegitimate as American territory or Greenland as a country within Denmark.

The days of empire are gone, and the right to self-determination is accepted around most of the world. But the days when Britain went too far the other way, and seemed to be permanently apologetic for its diaspora, are also going.

British governments now see that such an approach will be merely seen as weak, and exploited by other countries.

That is why, for the pro British population in this part of the world, it is so welcome that David Cameron has broken with the post-1993 tradition in which London was neutral over Northern Ireland’s status, while Dublin was partisan.