Price of meanness

Britain has a poor record in regard to its overseas territories. Compared with France or the Netherlands, it is mean and penny-pinching. St Helena, Pitcairn, Bermuda and Tristan da Cunha may be too far away from anywhere to consider other options. But what about the two territories with a single direct connection to a much larger Spanish-speaking nation: Gibraltar attached to Spain and the Falklands off the coast (at some distance it is true) of Argentina?

Why is Gibraltar still British? And the Falklands? We presume that the overseas British will always be more patriotic than those in the mother country, but this is an arrogant presumption. The fact is both these tiny communities could so easily have been incorporated into their much larger neighbours.

What did they ever get from Britain back in the Fifties, Sixties or Seventies? Not much. All was closure, withdrawal and managed decline. Why are they still British? Because of the foolish, short-sighted and arrogant opposition of their larger neighbour.

Had Franco not closed the border, and had the Spanish government not continued its low-level harassment ever since, things would have been different. Had Argentina held out an olive branch instead of invasion, those islands might now be full of Argentineans.

One cannot write too much what-if history, but it is worth noting that the foolish failure to work for any kind of proper provision or structural accommodation for the tiny minority has fuelled anti-Spanish and anti-Argentinean feeling more effectively than anything else.

Spain and Argentina are still paying for their folly and meanness - an analogy worth remembering when a Code of Practice is being considered.

Forget for a moment the serious theological arguments and consider the social context of what is being debated and discussed. Meanness will drive the opposition underground, harden the resolve of the faithful remnant, and ensure a bitter fight for decades to come.

David Noble

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