by Martin Odoni

The bellicose blundering of the modern Conservative Party never runs out of ways to amaze and appal me. We are, at the time of writing, a mere four days on from the activation of Article-50, starting the process of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Developments over the last few days have made certain that our hapless Prime Minister, Theresa May, will be conducting negotiations from a position of weakness. You would imagine, therefore, that everyone connected to the British Government would realise that what is needed now, in relations with other EU countries, is absolutely seamless, pitch-perfect diplomacy.

What we have seen from Michael Howard, former Conservative leader, now Lord Howard, over the subject of Gibraltar, does not fit the bill. ‘The Rock’, occupied by the English/British since the War Of The Spanish Succession in the early 18th Century, has long been a bone-of-contention between Britain and Spain. With the onset of ‘Brexit’, the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty was inevitably going to be raised once more. Howard, this morning, decided to throw his tiny-fraction-of-a-ha’penny’s-worth into the discussion by comparing the scenario to the Falklands War of 1982. He said,

Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman Prime Minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.

The current Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, also had something to say about it.

We’re going to look after Gibraltar. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar.

In response, a former Ministry of Defence Operational Director, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry, helpfully suggested,

If the Government wants to talk big over Gibraltar… they have to invest appropriately in the military capacity to back that up… We could cripple Spain in the medium term and I think the Americans would probably support us too. Spain should learn from history that it is never worth taking us on and that we could still singe the King of Spain’s beard.

I have one or two questions about these three masters of diplomacy. The first is as follows; –

What in blazes do these idiots think they are doing?

Another one is, why are the imbeciles even saying stuff like this?

What are they trying to accomplish? They are actually talking about using military force to cripple a fellow EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country, all over who controls a confounded tax-haven! At any time, that would be crass stupidity. But they are doing it just days after Article-50 was triggered. This is a time when the UK needs the most careful and skilled diplomatic manoeuvres the country has perhaps ever displayed, or it will face the prospect of an awful severance package, or even no deal at all.

It is like the whole of the UK Government and armed forces have been taken over by a gang of Donald Rumsfelds. Just threatening another country in this  macho-juvenile-on-steroids fashion borders on violating International Law. But more important, the UK is still presently part of the EU and so are the Spaniards. Still more important, both countries are members of NATO. The mutual defence nature of the Treaty means that, were the UK really to take military action against Spain, the rest of NATO would be compelled to intervene, vastly outmatching the British forces. NATO might also choose to expel the UK for attacking a fellow signatory within the alliance, meaning the country would lose the shared military protection it presently enjoys.

Comparisons with the Falklands War are therefore not only offensive (“Spain speaks Spanish, the Argentine Junta spoke Spanish, so obviously they’re all just the same,” seems to be the near-racist reasoning) but downright inaccurate. Argentina was not a member of NATO in 1982 – never has been in fact – nor a member of the EU, for obvious reasons. Spain is both. The implications of a war with Spain today are therefore totally different from those of a war with Leopoldo Galtieri’s Argentina in the 1980s.

For these reasons, an actual war is very unlikely to follow; both the British and Spanish Governments would be too frightened of the high price of being the aggressor. But the inept dearth of political skill or diplomatic instinct in the British making public statements like these at such a delicate time is thoroughly startling. Insensitive and obsolete reminders about the 16th Century terrorism of Sir Francis Drake lends a really yobbish quality to Parry’s remarks. But we can at least give him the benefit of the doubt, given he is not a politician. Howard and Fallon do not have that excuse, and their macho posturings, harking back to the Falklands War, have doubtless left many on Britain’s negotiating team in Brussels slamming their heads on their desks.

With every other move, the British Government seems determined to provoke the EU into hardening its stance on Brexit negotiations, inviting a less and less favourable deal. Is that deliberate, so the British have a way of blaming the EU if-and-when negotiations fail? Maybe, but that prize is far less valuable than getting a good deal in the first place. It is the better prize that the Conservatives seem determined to spurn. It may sound sneaky, but it certainly does not sound intelligent.

With Donald Trump in the White House and the Bullingdon Set all over the British Government, crass anti-intellectualism dominates international relations.

On the subject of Trump, imagine what everyone would be saying right now if he had made remarks like these. Everyone would be right too.

The British should not get away with it either.