A Reply To Norton-Taylor – The Left and the Commonwealth

The Wishes of Gibraltar and the Falklands Come First

In his Soapbox film for the BBC’s Daily Politics, Guardian writer Richard Norton-Taylor expresses the desire that was held by Blair’s New Labour government a little over a decade ago – to “hand over” Gibraltar and the Falklands. Sadly, this is a view espoused too readily from those on the Left, but rarely do their arguments have a rational, legal or moral basis, let alone political sense.

Indeed, their positions can be criticised from the same side of the spectrum itself with far more clout. It is time that the real Left not only recognise and hold in highest esteem the principle of self-determination, but also reclaim the word since it originates from left-wing thought. It is intransigent hypocrisy and wrong in every sense to exercise a policy that goes against the self-determination of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islanders, thus fundamentally undermining the worth of her respective citizens. It is this arrogant and superior attitude that Norton-Taylor recommends which is a reason for the discontent towards Britain by other former colonies.

The case from the Left (though rarely shared among the Labour elite) for the upholding of self-determination with regards to these democratic and mostly autonomous states has been made before (see http://www.newstatesman.com/newstatesman-gibraltar/special-features/2015/10/labour-must-work-gibraltar-rock-not-turning). “The point should be made that our right to this self-determining voice and a path for deciding Gibraltar’s future that is set by the inhabiting citizens does not, and should not, contradict left-wing politics”.

However, Norton-Taylor, with all due respect to him, has exposed the fundamental legerdemain, or perhaps ignorance, of the argument to disobey the wishes of a people and a state against all international law. In his video piece, he quotes from the Treaty Of Utrecht of 1713 – “Gibraltar is ceded to the British Crown in perpetuity”. This phrase is clearly a strong one and while it has been rephrased in other documents such as the 2006 Gibraltar Constitution which “gives the people of Gibraltar that degree of self-government which is compatible with British sovereignty of Gibraltar and with the fact that the United Kingdom remains fully responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations”. In this context it is known by all parties concerned that “fully responsible for external relations” means that the UK must be representative of the interests and the voice of the people of Gibraltar and her government. This is why the UK is expected to support Gibraltar in international forums as well as the Tripartite Forum (which Gibraltar is a part of) or any other dialogue of nations concerned.

If it is the case that Mr Norton-Taylor’s opinion has arisen from confusion, he should simply read the preamble of the aforementioned Constitution of 2006 – “Her Majesty’s Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes”. Instead of being so cavalier on the issue that he raises, he should recognise the great success of Gibraltar as an autonomous democracy aligned to the British Crown.

It is a true victory of a British people that were once treated as “useless mouths” by colonial servicemen. To overcome the odds through a civilian struggle and an emergence of a unique national identity (see http://www.newstatesman.com/gibraltar/newstatesman-gibraltar/2015/08/remembering-gibraltar-aacr-revolution-salvadors-100th), Gibraltar is a success story that Britain can actually be proud of, despite the calamitous embarrassment of New Labour’s negotiations.

In a way, what adds salt to the wounds of a fundamentally abhorrent misunderstanding of the discussion and a supremely immoral foreign policy suggestion, is that Norton-Taylor even commits the bandwagon, or common sense, fallacy when he makes his case. In fact, his case is nothing but that it seems strange that the British flag is flown from buildings so many miles from mainland Britain. It may be strange to him, and that is a purely subjective assertion, but it does not make any logical sense to jump to a conclusion that it is therefore time to submit these colonies to Argentinian or Spanish rule.

The only other point of any worth that he makes while he gaits around a library very briefly considering what aliens may think about post-colonialism if they visited Earth while ignoring any political debate or facts, he states that the Rock is of no strategic significance anymore. If that is at all relevant (keeping in mind that the Rock has many other important contributions to Britain and vice-versa) then it is false. But at this rate, I’m not expecting him to do much research on the constant service of the Gibraltar Port, which is the key for ships to enter the Mediterranean and the middle east.

In Norton-Taylor’s 2 minute vignette of very little content and even less of an argument of any discernible quality, he unfortunately characterises a point of view that exists in some circles of the UK. This is why it is important to, not just reach out to them with rational lucidity and warmness, but to fiercely critique this kind of argument and disclose its nonsense so as to diminish its prevalence, especially now to this changing Labour Party under Corbyn who once shared these views.

At this point, it is worth echoing the present Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn’s comments that “we absolutely as the Labour Party uphold the right of the people of Gibraltar to self-determination, because there is a natural hunger, a thirst on the part of human kind to be able to take decisions about how we live and how we run society and how we deal with problems that we face and how we fulfil our aspirations for a better future. It is what has motivated people throughout human history and the Labour Party and the Labour movement has been at the forefront, both in the fight against colonialism and in the modern age to support people who are trying to resolve their differences not by guns but by argument.”

Gibraltar, and indeed the Falklands, have previously shown, to inspirational lengths, that they can combat the misconceptions put against it. They are far stronger than their size lets off, and they are certainly strong enough to influence opinion in the UK. It will take only an insidious regime to violate the self-determination of these two nations and it would be a say day for humanity.

History, international law and political sense are so far on the side of Gibraltar and the Falklands in this debate that it is thankfully unlikely that a UK Government will ever dare to follow through an anti-self-determination policy against them. If Norton-Taylor’s sentiments ever reach Her Majesty’s cabinet again, they will be shot down as they were most recently in 2002 and many times previous. The Rock and the Islands will always prevail and if there is any iota of righteousness in this world, they will forever be the judge of their own destiny.

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