Tory MP John Whittingdale has found himself on the frontline of the row between Spain and the UK. Originally in Gibraltar to investigate gambling, the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is staying to talk to residents and report back on the conflict.
I hope he has a little more success at international diplomacy than one of his colleagues did when visiting The Rock in 2002. It was well reported at the time that a British Royal Marine training exercise went badly wrong, when in bad weather heavily armed marines stormed the wrong beach. As the Guardian reported at the time:
‘The platoon of some 30 marines stormed from a landing craft on to the San Felipe beach in the Spanish town of La Linea, carrying 60mm mortars and SA80 assault rifles, and took up defensive positions on the sand. Instead of being fired on with blank rounds by fellow British soldiers pretending to be the enemy, the marines found themselves being stared at by startled local fishermen. The enemy, when they appeared, turned out to be two blue-uniformed officers from La Linea’s municipal police force, who informed the detachment of marines that they were not, as they had thought, in Gibraltar. This, locals observed, was easily recognisable because it had a 1,398ft high rock sticking out of it.’
‘It was clearly an embarrassing and unfortunate incident’ said an MoD spokesman. ‘They made their apologies and left,’ yet what the MoD did not confirm at the time was that ‘they’ included a Tory MP taking part in the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme who had pestered to be allowed to do something more exciting than simple parading and polishing his boots and talked his way onto the doomed amphibious mission. Who knows what might happen if the same sort of incident happened with the current heightened tension.