Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Imperial Relics

Simon Jenkins has a slightly odd piece in the Guardian arguing that as the days of Empire are over, residual imperial relics should be returned to their rightful owners - specifically Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
Britain's security does not need these places. It does not depend on coaling stations in the Atlantic. France survives without any longer owning Senegal and Pondicherry, and Portugal without São Tomé and Goa.
So, France and Portugal have decolonised? Well, only if you don't count French Guiana, Martinique, Guadaloupe, Reunion, Mayotte and a handful of French territories in the Pacific. Or Madeira and the Azores. All of these places are the relics of imperial pasts - just like the residual British overseas territories.

Of course those living in these colonies have a right to be considered, but such rights have never overridden political reality. Nor has Britain claimed so, at least when circumstance dictated. The residents of Hong Kong and Diego Garcia were not consulted, let alone granted "self-determination", when Britain wanted to dump them in the dustbin of history.
Diego Garcia is mentioned quite a bit in the context of the Falklands and Gibraltar, but here's the thing: I thought that we were supposed to be ashamed of what the UK did there? That's certainly the view at the Guardian - that deciding the sovereignty of an overseas possession without consulting the population is a bad thing. Presumably this doesn't apply if the inhabitants are sufficiently white.

Gibraltar's status as a tax haven has brought it surging wealth, fuelling Spain's rage at so much money pouring untaxed through what it regards as its own territory.
So Spain wants it because it's rich (although, if it's only rich because it's a tax haven then making it part of metropolitan Spain would presumably remove the sole reason for its riches). But on what basis does it regard it as Spanish territory? Geographical propinquity? That surely hardly cuts it for a country that has its own enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Historical possession then? But Gibraltar has been British for longer than it was Spanish. The state of Spain came into being following the Reconquista in about 1495, and Gibraltar was only incorporated into Spain in 1501. In 1704 the British captured Gibraltar, its de facto occupation transmuted into de jure possession by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Gibraltar, then, was Spanish for 200 years and has since been British for 300.

Such colonies claim to be "more British than the British", except that they pay no UK tax and act as tax havens for funds from Britain. Gibraltar has made a particular specialism of internet gambling. Colonies claim allegiance to the crown, but not to its exchequer, or its financial police.
Well, no. They're not part of the UK and so they don't pay UK tax. That's the way that the British Empire worked. Is Simon Jenkins really arguing that Britain should be exerting more imperial power over its colonies? I thought the Age of Empires was over?

While they deny the logic of history and geography, neither Gibraltar nor the Falklands will ever be truly "safe". One day these hangovers will somehow merge into their hinterlands and cease to be grit in the shoe of international relations.
Yeah, 'somehow'. One of the developments that finally put the kybosh on the Imperial era was the advent of self-determination. Until that goes, or until the Falkland Islanders want to become Argentinian and the Gibraltarians want to become Spanish, they'll be staying British.

1 Comments:

Blogger Recusant said...

Ah, Simon Jenkins; the Whigs Whig. With an aded dose of misanthropy.

2:13 pm  

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