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What the papers say: the Gibraltar row heats up

4 April 2017

8:47 AM

4 April 2017

8:47 AM

Theresa May says the way to deal with the row over Gibraltar is ‘jaw-jaw’ rather than war. And there is plenty of chatter on the subject in today’s newspapers:

Of course we don’t want a war with Spain, says the Sun. But ‘nor will we sit quietly’ and let Madrid ‘launch its latest ridiculous attempt to claim the territory’. Some have said that Theresa May brought this mess upon herself, by failing to namecheck Gibraltar in her Article 50 letter to the European Union last week. This isn’t the case, says the paper, which points out that the PM is right to say the Rock’s ‘future is settled and its people aren’t a bargaining chip’. Despite the ‘welcoming tone’ which May adopted in her letter, however, it seems that Brussels won’t be happy playing the same amicable game, and it ‘speaks volumes that, in response, Brussels chose to antagonise Britain by questioning Gibraltar’s sovereignty’. The only thing this type of tactic deserves is ‘short shrift’ from Downing Street. The Sun concludes its editorial with a simple message: ‘Hands Off Our Rock’.

It’s true that the relationship between Gibraltar and both Britain and Europe is ‘complicated, to say the least’, says the Daily Telegraph. Yet the Telegraph says one thing is clear: ‘the Gibraltarians wish to remain British’. The paper points out that the people of Gibraltar ‘have made that clear in two referendums’. So this attempt to tie up Gibraltar’s future in Brexit talks is ‘completely unacceptable’. The paper calls on Brussels to listen to its own rules, pointing out that the ‘self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle’ ‘espoused, indeed, by the EU’. Yes, ‘there is a long-standing issue between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar’. But Spain must remember that this subject is a ‘bilateral matter, and not one for the EU to involve itself in’. At their Brexit summit later this month, EU leaders ‘should insist that this pernicious provision be removed’.

Michael Howard’s comparison of this latest row with the Falklands conflict has not gone down well with the Times. In its editorial, the paper says that the former Tory leader seems intent on ‘ ‘exemplifying the epithet’ of John Stuart Mill, that the Conservatives are ‘the stupidest party’. It’s true that the decision to include mention of Gibraltar in the EU’s reply to Theresa May’s Article 50 letter is ‘disappointing and arguably provocative’. Yet we also shouldn’t be surprised that the council is backing ‘members’ interests’ over ‘non-members, as Britain will be after 2019’. But however Britain responds, getting carried away – as the paper suggests Howard did during his interview on Sunday – is not the answer. ‘To treat the statement as tantamount to a threat of invasion by Spain is incendiary nonsense,’ says the Times.

Meanwhile, it isn’t only the ongoing row over Gibraltar dominating the headlines. Donald Trump has vowed to deal with North Korea – and the Guardian is worried. The paper says that ‘how this White House might tackle Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is becoming a greater cause for immediate concern than the programme itself’. The paper points out that Trump’s threat that he will put a stop to North Korea’s activities with or without the help of China is ‘profoundly worrying’. ‘It is hard to overstate how dangerous a preemptive attack would be,’ says the paper – saying that it is unlikely any attack would succeed in destroying all missile launching facilities. And even if North Korea still had conventional weapons left over after any military action against it, the consequences could be ‘devastating’ says the Guardian. Of course, given the timing of Trump’s comments so close to his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, we should interpret his remarks ‘primarily as an attempt to up the pressure on China’. ‘But if he imagines that Mr Xi will suddenly change course – particularly when the US is also sending out harsh messages on trade and the South and East China Seas – he should think again,’ says the Guardian.

Donald Trump might be talking the talk over North Korea. But he ‘is on much weaker ground when he suggests that, if China fails to live up to its responsibilities, the US can solve the problem itself,’ says the FT. The paper agrees with the Guardian’s analysis, saying that opting for a military strike against Pyongyang would be ‘calamitously risky’. After all, ‘millions of lives would be at stake’, says the paper. And while Trump has vowed to go it alone to deal with North Korea, he must remember that ‘a firm joint approach between the US and China is the only way to de-escalate the crisis’. ‘Without a US-China understanding’, concludes the FT, Asia and the world are doomed to live with the status quo – and that’s in no one’s interests.

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