On behalf of the British government I offer our sincere condolences on the recent tragedies you are suffering. The loss of one of your spouses and the deaths of millions of your subjects doubtlessly leaves a hole that no words can fill. I doubt anyone on earth knows the loss you are feeling right now.
I have found that the cruelest aspect of death is that the universe seems to stop, but we are expected to go on and to that end I regrettably have a favor to ask. The British government is interested in opening relations with Athens. Thus, I would like to invite a representative of the Athenian government to London to discuss the future relations between out two countries.
Christine Exeter, Prime Minister
With the Empress still taking time off, the message instead arrived at the Office of the Chief Magistrate. As Avra read through it she found herself conflicted. The Athenian Federation appreciated the aid they had received from the British and in many ways saw potential for future relations. At the same time however the Byzantine League had just passed a resolution condemning the continued ownership of Gibraltar. This left Athens stuck in between two extremes. As the resolution however carried no sanctions and did not prohibit diplomatic discourse, the decision was made to agree to the British request. The Magistrate of Foreign Affairs seemed a sufficiently high ranked official without sending someone of such status that it would be considered an insult to Iberia.
First of all, I must apologize on behalf of the Empress that she cannot respond to you in person. To process the recent losses she is currently still on a formal leave of absence. In her stead I oversee daily business as regent. I thank you for your understanding and well wishes. The Athenian Federation has been hit by great tragedy indeed in recent times.
Despite the complicated nature of relations with your United Kingdom right now as a result of the ongoing Gibraltar dispute, the Athenian Federation would like to see positive relations exist between our two states. As such I have instructed my Magistrate of Foreign Affairs, Olympia Antonis, to make her way to London. She will arrive on an Airbus A380 flying Athenian colours.
Avra. G. Georgiou,
Regent and Chief Magistrate of the Athenian Federation
As is customary the Foreign Secretary and the Prince of Wales were both at Heathrow Airport to receive Athens’s Magistrate of Foreign Affairs. Special care was taken to not publicize the event too much because London was sensitive to how the situation might look for Athens. Still there were press on hand to capture the moment for posterity.
They exchanged pleasantries while the motorcade took them through London to 10 Downing street where the PM would be waiting. After a short photo op the PM took her guest to the state drawing room for refreshments and a bit of small talk before getting down to business.
“Your Excellency, thank you for coming. Please have a seat.” she said gesturing her toward a table in the center of the room with food and drinks laid out.
“There are several things we would like to talk about. Our primary concerns are for national security, but also the broader state of things Europe. I have no doubt Gibraltar will be brought up today, so is there anything you would like to add to the agenda?”
Olympia nodded as she listened to her host, the warm but discrete welcome had already set the right foundation for talks, now it was just looking at what the future could possibly hold. “Honestly that seems like a pretty all-encompassing agenda. I do not personally have any additions”
“Wonderful! Down to business, shall we? Our first concern relates to British shipping in the Mediterranean and Spanish attempts to disrupt order.” She reached for an empty tea cup and saucer and moved them closer to her.
"Iberia has forbidden British military ships from entering from the Strait of Gibraltar, which we do not intend to protest at this time. However. if this goes on too long we are concerned the Spanish elements in Iberia will try to escalate and block regular trade from passing through.
We were hoping to get your help on this issue. Britain will never renounce her sovereignty over any of her territories and hand them over to another overlord, but we are not unwilling to find a diplomatic solution. Our belief is that Iberia and Britain would gain from a joint agreement, but hardliners in Spain oppose every overture. Hopefully the Spanish can have their rigid negotiating stance softened. What would it take to gain your assistance in this matter?"
Olympia nodded understandingly as the Prime Minister spoke. “I understand completely and it would take nothing to gain our cooperation. As you may already know when the proposal was introduced in the Council concerning the Byzantine League’s declaration on Gibraltar, the Athenian Federation was the only country to abstain from voting. We do not want a war to start over, quite frankly, a rock.” She paused a moment to drink some water. “That being said, I have had some time in recent weeks to talk to my Iberian counterpart and other members in the Spanish and Portuguese governments. The matter of Gibraltar has become a fundamental one for them, going directly to the core of the Spanish state. At the same time Queen Alba is in a precarious position. Her uncle has left a very bad impression of the Bourbon line in Spain and that is without considering Spanish prid about being ruled by a Portuguese 18 year old. She as well as her mother have been working hard to restore that. The Queen simply cannot deviate from the Gibraltar red line without almost certainly inviting rebellion against her rule and delaying if not outright rendering impossible the unification of the two Kingdoms. It is my understanding that the proposal the Queen made to your Foreign Secretary had already expended a great deal of her political capital in Madrid.”
Olympia paused for a moment to think the matter over. “What exactly would you envision under such a Joint Agreement?”
Christine chuckled, politics never changes she thought to herself. “I completely understand. Although I am a politician myself it never fails to amaze me how vapid and petty we can be. We do appreciate everything you’ve done up to now. Iberia’s response has been tough, but without intent to cause violence… so far.” She poured some tea and milk into her cup. She stirred it carefully and without the spoon touching the sides.
“Sadly, our first proposal was rejected. That would have Iberia and Britain share sovereignty over Gibraltar. We hoped it would preserve the people’s way of life and provide opportunities for cooperation. A second option would be establishing an independent Gibraltaran state with Iberia and Britain as its patrons. I suspect they will reject that as well.”
Olympia smiled at the commentary regarding politicians. “One of the benefits of a monarchy that heavily empowers the monarch. I could be appointed to my office as a career diplomat rather than a career politician and ultimately I do not answer to the politicians in our Parliament but the woman in the Imperial Palace only”
She considered what the two solutions the British had envisioned so far. Perhaps there was space to move after all. “If I summarize the British position accurately I believe the key elements are that the United Kingdom is worried for the status of its subjects if it were to relinquish sovereignty and is less interested about the formality of territorial ownership. At the same time I know what has made joint sovereignty impossible in Spanish eyes is that it still would give a foreign power at least partial sovereignty over a peninsula they consider theirs. Would a possible compromise be a handover of Gibraltar under Spanish rule on paper. However at the same time the region would be given its own governance under a fully autonomous model and have a shared executive. One President appointed by the Spanish and one President appointed by the British. Not unlike how Andorra used to be ruled before the French fully annexed them. This way on paper Iberia would be fully Iberian, the people of Gibraltar would still have self-rule and the British would have a veto power due to the dual-Presidency. If this compromise were acceptable to you, I think I could convince my Empress who in turn would certainly convince Queen Alba”
“You sum it up well. Although we wish to retain our perpetual lease over the military base there. Additionally we cannot enter into negotiations while Iberia blocks us from accessing the strait. We cannot appear to be negotiating from a place of weakness. Other measures the Iberian offered would need to be in place as well such as unrestricted access to the strait and a NAP.”
Olympia rubbed her forehead. “I can probably convince them to keep the other offer on the table, however they would likely want to remove the enclave in Morocco from the arrangement under these altered terms. As for the timing. I could perhaps convince the Iberians to handover the patrol of the Strait of Gibraltar to the Byzantine League temporarily. That way the British and Iberians would trade from the same positions of power as any blockade would be enforced by a third uninvolved party and upon the signing of an agreement we could then return control to Iberia and lift the blockade”
Christine realized she was frustrating the Athenian. She foolishly hoped Gibraltar would not be the focus of the meeting, but now it seemed British foreign policy revolved around it.
“Honestly, it’s not ideal. We’re still being compelled by foreign powers to negotiate giving away our rightful territory. However, we have little choice. We need your help or we fear this problem will lead to a war. If that is the best possible solution we’ll accept.”
Olympia nodded. “Good, I’ll make sure this gets relayed back to Iberia with the highest priority at our next meeting. Which should be in a few days.” Happy to get this topic over with she moved on. “Now that we have figured something out that I am certain Iberia will accept. I’d like to move on to something less multilateral and more bilateral. For the Athenian Federation the Mediterranean is our core focus, as a stable Mediterranean allows us to direct our power outwards for more humanitarian purposes. That does not mean however that we don’t have priorities beyond The Sea (as the Mediterranean had come to be referred to for the Greeks). The United Kingdom has played a vital role in our history, from our original war of independence to the World Wars and now when disaster struck us. My Empress has made it very clear that she would like to see high level relations between Athens and London.”
Christine let out a quiet sigh of relief. Hopefully there would be a resolution soon. She was also eager to move on to other things also. “Agreed. Thank you for your help so far. Hopefully the Spanish politicians pressuring Queen Alba will come around. At any rate Britain shares the empress’s view. The Mediterranean is a vital link to the trade routes of Asia and we want to remain friendly with all the Mediterranean states, beginning with Athens of course. To that end we are interested in military and economic cooperation with Athens so that we can deal with any threats, earthbound or not, that come our way.”