On Wednesday, Britain formally began the process of withdrawing from the European Union, and already some leaders seem eager to get back to the glory days of naval warfare with Spain.
It all started on Friday when the EU published its negotiating guidelines for the upcoming talks to determine Britain’s future relationship with Europe. Unexpectedly, the guidelines included a section saying that any deal between Britain and the EU would not apply to the territory of Gibraltar unless Spain agrees. Gibraltar is a semi-autonomous British territory on the southern tip of Spain. While it has been under British control since 1713 and Gibraltarians have voted to keep it that way in several referendums, Spain has periodically made some rumblings about regaining control of the territory, which is located in a strategically valuable spot at the entrance to the Mediterranean. The EU guidelines indicated that Brussels intends to side with Spain.
Currently hopped up on a heady dose of post-Brexit jingoism, British politicians weren’t going to take this lying down. Referring to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership during the Falklands War with Argentina, former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said in a Sunday interview that 35 years ago “another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country. And I’m absolutely clear that our current woman prime minister will show the same resolve in relation to Gibraltar as her predecessor did.”
A columnist from the Sun deployed a famous Winston Churchill line, writing, “We are only just into these Brexit negotiations and to be honest I have already gone from jaw-jaw to war-war. Our friends in Europe are quickly turning out to be our foes. It’s only in recent history where Germany and Italy have been on our side.”
The Telegraph ran an interview with a former admiral warning that Britain’s Navy is much weaker today than it was during the Falklands War and that the government should boost defense spending if it wants to “talk big” over Gibraltar.
Prime Minister Theresa May is doing her best to calm everybody down, saying that while Britain won’t trade away Gibraltar’s sovereignty against its wishes, her approach is “definitely jaw-jaw.” When asked if she would rule out war, May laughed.
As for what Gibralter thinks, Fabian Picardo, chief minister of the territory, accused the EU of acting like a “cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children.”
This is only the first week.
*Update, April 3, 2017: The headlines on this post have been updated to clarify that Britain started the process to leave the EU five days ago. It has not yet fully left.