Chris Moncrieff: Theresa May stuck between a rock and a hard place over Brexit and Gibraltar

GIBRALTAR has become the first crisis hotspot as the Brexit negotiations get under way '“ scarcely before the ink has dried on the letter Theresa May wrote triggering Article 50 to set the wheels rolling.

Gibraltar is at the centre of a Brexit power struggle between Britain and Spain.
Gibraltar is at the centre of a Brexit power struggle between Britain and Spain.

But the political hotheads should all cool down and stop running ahead of themselves.

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, have made clear that the UK has no intention of giving up The Rock to Spain unless the inhabitants of Gibraltar say they would prefer to live under Spanish rule – an outcome that is highly unlikely.

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And Lord (Michael) Howard, a former Tory leader, has daringly gone a stage further by saying that May would be as firm about Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher was over the Falklands – a comment that has been regarded as saying there would be a willingness to go to war over the issue.

Needless to say, their opponents have accused the Tories of sabre-rattling. This is scarcely the best way for these long and difficult Brexit negotiations to start.

Let us hope everyone calms down before things get out of hand.

THE grumpy behaviour of the Parliamentary Labour Party towards Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons is damaging the party and is disconcerting to their leader. They should snap out of it.

You might think Corbyn’s position could scarcely get any worse now that the New Statesman magazine, long regarded as the Labour Party Bible, has launched an attack on him and his leadership.

Corbyn has been the target of brickbats from all quarters, yet he soldiers on manfully. But his position could be immeasurably improved by a change in attitude by the Parliamentary Labour Party.

At the moment, during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, they largely sit there stony-faced, not offering even a squeak of support for their leader. An occasional cheer wouldn’t go amiss.

WAS the Tony Blair government guilty of illicit dirty tricks against the late Dr 
Ian Paisley, former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland?

It has been alleged by Lord Prescott, Labour’s former deputy Prime Minister, that Blair told him Paisley’s phone had been tapped by the security services.

Paisley was regarded as a major stumbling block in the quest for the Good Friday Agreement, but he later became “onside”.

Even so, it was and is a strict convention that MPs should not be monitored in this way.

No wonder his son Ian Paisley Jr, now also an MP, is urgently seeking answers to the questions raised by Prescott.

THE cascade of Scottish Nationalists into the Commons at the last general election has brought with it some of the most gruff-sounding MPs that anyone can remember, making life virtually intolerable for Ministers trying to answer their questions and reporters trying to understand what they are saying.

All this seems to validate P G Wodehouse’s comment that it is not difficult to distinguish between a ray 
of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grudge.

One of the worst “offenders” is Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudon) who creates consternation on the Ministerial benches and in the Press gallery when he rises to speak.

Some years ago, there was a 
diminutive Labour MP, Robert Woof, from north-east England, whose accent was so pronounced that it was virtually unintelligible to anyone outside Geordie-land. When he opted to speak, 
shorthand writers on Hansard, the official report, threw up their hands in despair, as did those in the Press gallery. If Woof had been senior enough to announce the declaration of war, nobody would have noticed.

It did not help, either, that he often got his words wrong. Once he used the term “hospitalise” in a speech before it (alas) became a “legitimate” word. The editor of Hansard told him they could not use it, and could Mr Woof provide them with an alternative?

Mr Woof was not having any of this. He marched into the editor’s office and came out triumphant, punching the air. “They are using it, but are putting it in invertigated commas,” he declared.