Inside its “Gibraltar Campaign” edition, readers of the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper were given a special pullout poster with a photograph featuring a young woman waving a Union Jack in front of Gibraltar and bearing the legend: “Hands off our Rock”
The Sun spelled out its position over the British Overseas Territory ceded by Spain to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht in a column in which it said: “Of course Britain shouldn’t go to war with Spain over Gibraltar. But nor will we sit quietly while Madrid launches its latest ridiculous attempt to claim the territory.” Opposite the column in the print edition appeared a series of nude photographs of Australian actress Nicole Kidman.
That said, the tone of Tuesday’s edition is more moderate than Monday’s, when former editor Kelvin MacKenzie described Spaniards as “donkey rogerers.”
In a piece headlined “The Spanish are off their Rioja over Gibraltar…so let’s put up a good ol’ British fight,” MacKenzie then calls on the UK government to increase defense spending, while proposing a series of measures to bring Madrid to heel. Among them is imposing a tax on Rioja wine, denying Scotland fishing quotas to Spain, saying “Adiós, Manuel” to the 125,000 Spaniards working in the United Kingdom, cancelling the state visit by King Felipe and Queen Leticia, and telling “the 12 million Brits who head to Spain each year not to bother. All Spanish flights are denied airspace.”
Former Sun Kelvin MacKenzie editor called for Spaniards living in the UK to be sent home
Some of Britain’s broadsheets have also joined in the fray. After former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard suggested to UK broadcaster Sky News that Prime Minister Theresa May would be prepared to go to war with Spain over Gibraltar, as her predecessor Margaret Thatcher did 35 years ago “with another Spanish-speaking country,” the Daily Telegraph undertook a review of Britain’s military capacity.
The Royal Navy, concluded the conservative newspaper, is “far weaker” than it was during the Falklands War of 1982 against Argentina. Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability at the UK Ministry of Defence, was cited as recommending that the government invest “appropriately” in Britain’s military capacity “if it wants to talk big” over Gibraltar.
Parry, who served in the Falklands campaign, suggested Spain “learn from history” warning that Britain could “cripple” Spain militarily and still “singe the King of Spain’s beard,” a reference to the defeat of the Spanish Armada that attempted to invade Britain in 1588.
Such is the mood in some quarters in Britain, barely days after May formally triggered the country’s withdrawal from the European Union. The Prime Minister, speaking during a visit to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, made a plea for calm and ruled out any kind of armed conflict.
The Sun gave readers a free poster bearing the words “Hands off our Rock!”
Not all the British press has joined in the jingoism. But the reaction to Gibraltar has served, once again, to highlight the split that Brexit has produced in British society, with a substantial part of the population looking on in horror at their compatriots’ call to arms.
Giles Tremlett, a former correspondent for The Guardian and author of a number of books on Spain, writes in the paper about 500 years of rivalry between Britain and Spain. He argues that: “Spain is now the one most enamored of Britain. It wants a soft Brexit. It owns British banks, tolerates drunken tourists and is happy to have large populations of English people who do not speak its language – some of them undocumented, so much like illegal immigrants – on its coasts.”
Spain wants Gibraltar back, notes Tremlett. “This does not mean it is about to invade. In fact, all it wants is a veto on future deals between Gibraltar and the EU.” Highlighting the irony that The Sun and others ignore, he concludes: “Thanks to Brexit, it now has that.”
English version by Nick Lyne.