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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Raspberries and all those Nuts: 800 Years of Anglo-Moroccan Relations

Preparing for a post Brexit world, The UK and Morocco signed an 'Association Agreement' last year. Both sides have emphasised in recent months the long trading and diplomatic links between the two countries, stretching back 800 years. We have seen Morocco as a supplier of luxury goods, mainly edible (fruit, vegetables, and nuts), as well as a balance to the power of Spain. Spain was the reason that in Elizabeth I's reign we exchanged Ambassadors for the first time. The Moroccan Ambassador being sent over to London in the very year of The Armada, 1588. Spain was the common enemy. On a personal note that is why I try and buy Moroccan raspberries from the supermarket rather than Spanish, as a small act of resistance to Spain's ongoing attitude towards Gibraltar!

In Tudor times we exported arms, guns, timber, and metals. In return we imported from Morocco, sugar, saltpetre, and, fascinatingly, ostrich feathers. So annoyed was the Catholic Church with our export of military equipment to an Islamic Power that The Papal Nuncio in Spain condemned Elizabeth in these words, 'there is no evil that is not devised by that woman, who, it is perfectly plain, succoured Morocco with arms, and especially with artillery'. One interesting fact of the late Tudor/Early Stuart England is that there were more English residents in Morocco, up to 1620, than there were in the whole of North America.

To return to the beginning of the story 800 years ago; we know that King John, ostracised by the Pope, at war with France, and threatened by the Barons at home, sought help from the Sultan of Morocco. He even promised, how seriously we don't know, to convert to Islam in return for military aid. His overtures were rejected, but it provides us with a most interesting 'what if' of history.

Despite, and sometimes because of, the actions of Barbary Pirates our relations remained strong, and trade flourished, and all this despite the gift of Tangier by the Crown of Portugal on the occasion of the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese Princess in 1661. In 1684, Parliament was unwilling to find the cash for the defence of the city, and so it was evacuated and its defence works blown up; it has remained Moroccan ever since.

Today, The Department of International Trade emphasises the role Morocco could play in our post Brexit trade strategy - 'UK links to Anglophone Africa and Morocco's Francophone links create a platform for new business relationships'. In that wonderful line of Bob Hope, 'Like Webster's Dictionary, we appear to be Morocco bound'.

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