‘Spain is dropping pants to UK’: Retired general

A retired Spanish lieutenant general has accused Spain's defence forces of "dropping their pants" over Gibraltar after news of the arrival of British warships in the Mediterranean during a row between Spain and the United Kingdom.

'Spain is dropping pants to UK': Retired general
Spain's defence minister called for calm after several Spanish media reports called the arrival of British warships an act of intimidation. Photo: Andrew Cowie/AFP

Spain is demonstrating its intention to "loosen its belt and drop its pants again", said  Pedro Pitarch in a blog piece published on Sunday.

In a broadside attack on Spain's Defence Minister Pedro Morenés, Pitarch said it was "completely abnormal that a British air-sea group" would "reach port in Gibraltar in the middle of a crisis".

News that a handful of British warships were setting sail for the Mediterranean on Monday was reported by some Spanish media outlets as an act of intimidation given the current spat between Spain and Gibraltar.

But Morenés quickly called for calm, saying the visit of the warships had been months planned ahead.

Spain's Defence Minister also dismissed all talk of a naval conflict over Gibraltar.

"This is not the last century, things don't work that way," Morenés told Spanish news agency Europa Press.

"Neither the British Government nor the Spanish Government has any interest in bad relations," the defence boss went on to say.

But Pitarch, Spain's Director General for Defence Policy from 2004 to 2006 called instead for Spain to make "a military gesture" in response to the arrival of the boats.

He said the UK vessels should be prevented from entering Gibraltar and also criticized the "overly passive" attitude of the Spain's defence minister.

"Hide your tail between your legs, Minister. It (your stance) is unacceptable," said Pitarch.

The former NATO official also called for London to officially condemn Gibraltar's decision to create an artificial concrete reef in the waters off the tiny UK territory.

That move appears to be the cause of current tensions between the UK and Spain, with Madrid saying the reef blocks access to traditional fishing grounds of local Spanish fishermen.

Spain has even floated the idea of charging a €50 border fee for cars entering or exiting Gibraltar. 

On Friday, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told Spain's ABC newspaper the money raised would go towards compensating those fishermen.

Pitarch made headlines in 2012 when he said independence for Catalonia was "unthinkable". 

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.