Spain Seeks to Hide Problems with Gibraltar Disruption: threatens rift with UK

The UK has lodged a formal complaint to Spain, accusing border authorities of disrupting entry into the British protectorate of Gibraltar. Stories of young children and pensioners being forced to wait up to six hours in boiling cars before being permitted across the border after increased vehicle searches has reinvigorated a long-standing dispute over territorial sovereignty.

It is convenient that Spanish authorities should decide to employ this harassment now, based on the feeble pretense that a new offshore artificial reef could encourage smuggling. In the wake of a disastrous train crash in the northwest of the country, and amidst dire economic turmoil and frequent evidence of government corruption, it is unsurprising that the Spaniards should reignite the Gibraltar debate in a bid to hide their woes.

Given the unpopularity of Mariano Rajoy’s government, and its conservative political stance, it is more surprising that pandering to nationalist sentiment over Gibraltar has not been employed more recently.

Captured from the Kingdom of Castile during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704, Gibraltar was formerly ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Attempts by the Spaniards to recapture the territory in 1727 and between 1779 and 1783 failed, leaving Gibraltar as an important base for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

British naval power enabled the capture of Gibraltar
British naval power enabled the capture of Gibraltar

Spain has been persistent in its claims that Gibraltar belongs to the mainland and, at its worst, closed the border to vehicles between 1969 and 1985. Yet these claims are infused with hypocrisy for one simple reason. Namely, that Spain has similar possessions along the North African coast.

The exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are to Morocco what Gibraltar is to Spain. Geographically part of the African continent, the territories have been under European control for centuries.

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Ceuta was, indeed, the location of one of the most chivalric battles in history, when forces of King John I of Portugal captured the city in 1415, following which his three sons (including Henry the Navigator) were knighted for their heroic deeds.The Union of the Crowns (of Spain and Portugal) in 1580 saw Ceuta pass to Spanish control and it has remained that way since.

Henry the Navigator came of age at Ceuta
Henry the Navigator came of age at Ceuta

Melilla, on the other hand, was captured by Castilian forces in 1497 as the Reconquista spilled over Spain’s borders. Despite frequent skirmishes and sieges involving a plethora of Moroccan tribesman and dynasts in the succeeding centuries, Melilla has remained part of Spain.

And, like Ceuta, it is a part of Spain, having been populated by Spaniards who have necessarily imbued the territory with their traditional culture. The same can be said for Gibraltar which, as its population will tell you, is just as much a part of Britain as London.

Gibraltar is an unapologetically British outpost
Gibraltar is an unapologetically British outpost

These territories may be outdated remnants of bygone imperialism, of which both Spain and Britain remain rightfully proud, yet their cultural and social make-up has come to defy their geography.

The needless bullying tactics employed by Spain’s crossing guards will serve no purpose in changing what has become territorial reality and will certainly provide no respite to the more serious challenges facing the Iberian country today.

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Margaret Thatcher: a truly conflicting legacy

Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87, leaving behind her one of the most divisive legacies in British political history. Politicians throughout the UK, even outside Thatcher’s own Conservative Party, have been quick to pay tribute to her political skill, if not her actual policies. David Cameron has gone so far to say that Thatcher “saved our country”.

As is often the case when a famous figure dies, the initial reaction, particularly amongst the establishment, is positive. It does, after all, appear rather callous and inconsiderate to criticise someone on the moment of their passing. However, the “popular” reaction is often more enlightening. Here, people’s memories of Thatcher within the UK are highly conflicting, particularly with regards to the economy and class.

Margaret Thatcher oversaw a complete upheaval of the British economy during her tenure at 10, Downing Street (1979-1990). Privatising state-owned industries, she opened up the economy to greater competition, making it more flexible in a increasingly globalised world. Simultaneously, she severely curtailed the powers of the trade unions, which opposed her acts of privatisation and the enforced closures of industrial and manufacturing bases. Her iron will was best displayed in facing down Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the strike of 1984-5.

Thatcher's response to the striking miners divided the nation
Thatcher’s response to the striking miners divided the nation

Thatcher’s policies unarguably led to job losses amongst the working class, particularly as mines closed and industry was outsourced abroad due to cheaper labour costs. Yet the economy was in need of a transformation. To engage with an increasingly competitive global economy, and with the financial miseries of the 1970s still fresh in the memory, her neoconservative approach was a necessity. Without her reforms, Britain would not have so rapidly advanced its technological skills base and would not be one of the world’s leading financial centres. Unfortunately, this resulted in a widening wealth gap between rich and poor that, partly thanks to Thatcher’s uncompromising elitism, became associated with class. The massive sale of council houses to private ownership furthered the impression that Thatcher was unconcerned with the common man.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that people in several cities, including Glasgow, attempted to organise ad hoc street parties on the news of her death.

That said, her handling of the Falklands War in 1982 had received almost unanimous support across the country and helped prevent a complete alienation between the classes. Refusing to bow to aggression from a brutal Argentine regime, Thatcher’s swift and ruthless execution of the war brought a renewed patriotic fervour and unity to Britain, if only temporarily.

Victory in the Falklands War helped bolster Thatcher's popularity despite some controversial policies
Victory in the Falklands War helped bolster Thatcher’s popularity despite some controversial policies

The fact that Thatcher won re-election twice testifies to a persisting popularity amongst large segments of the population. She may never have been loved but there was perhaps a grudging acceptance from some quarters that a leader of her conviction and strength was necessary to revitalise Britain and make it relevant in a modern world. Whilst many will refuse to admit it, her reign at the top was a platform from which New Labour and Tony Blair could bring strong economic growth back to the UK. It is the reason why Britain, despite an obvious downturn, remains a global economic powerhouse in the twenty-first century.

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Rarely loved, revered by some, grudgingly admired by others, and intensely hated by many more, Margaret Thatcher will raise passions in almost every person that experienced her rule as Britain’s Prime Minister. Only someone of immense character and resolve could precipitate such a reaction.