Madrid, March 2012
The two serious-looking middle-aged men sit in their plush office with briefing documents in hand. They do not want to be named and certainly do not want to be quoted. We are sitting in Spain’s futuristic Ministry for Cooperation and Foreign Affairs on the outskirts of Madrid, a huge, unmarked metal and glass edifice that conveys both power and anonymity. This is just a meeting, they say, to put forward Spain’s point of view and correct any historical errors I may have inadvertently carried with me.
They speak in perfect politician’s English. Every word and phrase is measured, as if pre-crafted. Each nods sagely when the other is talking, only occasionally flashing each other looks when a particularly sensitive topic is broached, as if the routine has been rehearsed. The men from the Ministry have invited me here to talk about Gibraltar, what Spain describes as “the last colony in Europe”. It’s a tiny territory found on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsular with a population of just 30,000 people. The territory was ceded in perpetuity to the British by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, although successive Spanish governments have long disputed the legality of the document.