Defence Secretary on the defensive about Gibraltar

The comments about Gibraltar made by the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in Madrid this week reveal an alarming lack of knowledge on the subject.

It is also obvious that, in an attempt to carry favour with his hosts in Spain, he has risked antagonising the proudly British and loyal people of Gibraltar in the process.

17 YEARS

Mr Wallace is reported to have been the first U.K. Secretary of State for Defence to have visited Spain in 17 years. This should hardly come as a surprise. Spain continues to obstruct and undermine the use of the base at Gibraltar by the U.K. and it’s Allies in every conceivable manner. The recent incident with a US General at the frontier and their reaction to the call by U.K. and US submarines is proof enough of this.

There is nothing that the U.K. should be apologetic for here - on the contrary.

*Gibraltar is ‚Äústrategically Important‚ÄĚ, not just ‚Äėuseful but not essential‚Äô
*Both Spain and the UK ‚Äúfundamentally‚ÄĚ are allies in NATO
*Gibraltar’s military use is no threat to Spain
*Timing of Defence Ministers’ Madrid meeting coincides with Gibexit talks, is that significant?

MORE THAN ‚ÄėUSEFUL BUT NOT ESSENTIAL‚Äô?

The UK‚Äôs Defence Minister, Ben Wallace, has now described Gibraltar as ‚Äústrategically Important‚ÄĚ to Britain. It is a description which emphasises its need rather than its usefulness.

The standard expression applied, until now, by UK personnel for many a decade to describe Gibraltar‚Äôs UK military presence had been that it is ‚Äėuseful but not essential‚Äô.

Mr. Wallace made Gibraltar’s strategic importance to the UK clear during a visit to Madrid. It is the first one by a UK Defence Minister in 17 years. He met with Spain’s Defence Minister, Margarita Robles, and afterwards spoke to the press.

The timing of the meeting coincides, strangely, and possibly significantly, with the ongoing discussions between the UK and the EU on a desired treaty over future relations with the EU over Gibraltar.

HMS TRENT

The suggestion that the recent basing of HMS Trent in Gibraltar indicated that the UK was reinforcing UK military presence in Gibraltar was played down by Mr. Wallace on being questioned by reporters at a press conference. However, he underlined the importance placed by the UK on Gibraltar as a staging post for its armed forces.

He said, ‚ÄúGibraltar has always been of strategic importance, as has Britain‚Äôs presence in Cyprus. They are strategically important.‚ÄĚ Despite which he went on to say that ‚ÄúGibraltar is much less of a military base than it was in the 1980‚Äôs and 1990‚Äôs. and indeed over history. There‚Äôs definitely much less there than there used to be ‚Ķ‚ÄĚ

DIFERRENCES WITHIN NATO BUT UNITY SHOWN

Mr. Wallace acknowledged that the UK had differences with Spain over Gibraltar, but stressed the mutual membership in NATO of both countries. He said, ‚ÄúFundamentally, we are both NATO allies‚ÄĚ.

At the same time Ms. Robles confirmed the ‚Äúmagnificent relations‚ÄĚ between both countries on matters of Defence.

The aim of the meeting, he suggested, was to evidence NATO unity at a time of concern following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

GIBRALTAR DISCUSSED, SPAINS IMPORTANCE ACKNOWLEDGED

Mr. Wallace, however, acknowledged that Gibraltar was talked about, whilst emphasising that both the UK’s and Spain’s position on Gibraltar are clear to each other.

At the same time, he dismissed suggestions that the UK‚Äôs military presence in Gibraltar was any threat to the security of Spain. He said, ‚ÄúGibraltar is not used, in any way, towards Spain, at all.‚ÄĚ

Mr. Wallace, at the same time, said, ‚ÄúSpain‚Äôs position at this end of the Mediterranean is incredibly strategically important, for Spain, for NATO, and the European Union. Spain is on the frontline of North Africa, so it‚Äôs always important for all of us.‚ÄĚ

GIBEXIT TALKS

The timing of the talks between the Defence Ministers of both the UK and Spain raises a question. They coincide with ongoing negotiations over Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU following Brexit.

The EU is disconnected from military and defence matters. Accordingly, the Gibexit negotiations with the EU will not touch on those issues.

The question is, will the EU have an interest in ensuring that there is no disconnect on military and defence matters bilaterally between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar, which may impact on any Gibexit arrangements, hence the impetus for a meeting between the Defence Ministers of both countries, giving rise to the first visit in 17 years?

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