Last week, a Spanish ship fired shots at a British-Gibraltarian boat that was ‘well within’ Gibraltar’s territorial waters. At the time, that seemed to me like a serious escalation of tensions between the UK, Gibraltar, and Spain; but it is nothing on what has just been reported – that a Russian military submarine has docked in the Spanish port of Ceuta, directly opposite Gibraltar!
Though apparently the docking of this submarine at Ceuta does not contravene the EU sanctions imposed against Russia from 2014, it certainly undermines the spirit and the thrust of Western policy against Putin, which has been to isolate Russia economically, and demonstrate to the world that behaving like a bully on the international stage will not be tolerated.
As for the Gibraltarian people, this latest development is particularly worrying. For the past year, Spain has consistently ignored the borders of Gibraltar’s territorial waters, rammed their ships, and even fired shots at boats filled with tourists. And now, to cap it all off, they are allowing the navy of a unfriendly power to park their submarine less than 25km away! This is a clear provocation play on the part of Spain, designed to intimidate the Gibraltarian people.
It has been the stated aim of successive Spanish governments to recover sovereignty over Gibraltar, and the current government is no different. However, what is so disappointing is that while in all other spheres of foreign policy, Spain appears they behave entirely respectably, their policy towards Gibraltar has now for a long time been hostile and aggressive. Unfortunately, if they continue to behave in this way, cavorting with the military personnel of a bellicose power such as Russia, they run a clear risk of losing their reputation as a respectable member of the international community.
As for the British response, I can only I repeat what I said in a statement recently – that we can only tell Spain what to do from a position of strength. The Royal Navy presence in Gibraltar must be beefed up, and if we are serious about retaining Gibraltar as an Overseas Territory, we must seriously consider re-establishing it as a proper British naval base. We must demonstrate to the Spanish that their continued disregard for the letter and the spirit of international law will not be tolerated.