Thursday, March 31, 2011


On March 23 the Conservative Peer, Lord Ashcroft, asked in the House of Lords “what legal obstacles there are to self-determination for the citizens of Gibraltar?”
Replying for the government was the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell of Guildford - also a Tory - who stated: “The UK Government's position is that we will not enter into arrangements under which Gibraltar will pass into the sovereignty of another state against the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. Moreover, we will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. Gibraltar's right of self-determination is not constrained, except through Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht. Should Britain renounce sovereignty over Gibraltar, Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht makes clear that Spain would be given the right of first refusal.”
All pretty standard stuff but two points caught my eye. The first is that in this day and age the British Government still bases its position regarding Gibraltar on the outdated and largely defunct Treaty of Utrecht. Also as an extension of that it believes Spain has the right of first refusal – surely that right lies with the people of the Rock.
In Gibraltar’s new Constitution is enshrined the promise that Gibraltar will not pass into the sovereignty of another state against the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. That is a short term commitment that will last for the lifetime of this constitution. Yet what of the future? I would argue Gibraltarians should not be only confident of their status, say over the next 20 years, but that of their children, their children’s children on into the future.
I would therefore beg the question that whilst secure in the present constitution should not Gibraltar challenge the Treaty of Utrecht now in the European Court of Human Rights to have it consigned once and for all to the legal dustbin? If it doesn’t then no progress can be made on self-determination, the sovereignty of Gibraltar’s waters or Spain’s sovereignty claims because Madrid and London will both turn to the Articles of the Treaty of Utrecht.
Who knows what world Gibraltarians will be living in in 50 years time? One scenario is that the mother country Britain will not be a monarchy but a republic. It is my understanding that the Treaty of Utrecht gives Gibraltar to the British Crown and not the government – so if there is no crown what then?
There are no hard and fast facts on the support in Britain for a Republic. Even the Republic website can only state: “Opinion polls consistently put support for a republic at around 20 per cent (various Mori polls), and some have put it as high as 43 per cent (GMTV/Mirror 2008). That means that at least 10 million people would vote to abolish the monarchy - the same number that voted for the winning party at our last general election.”
I suspect any move to a Republic is on hold till HM The Queen dies. I believe the British people and key nations such as Australia will not break their links to the crown until after she leaves the throne. With King Charles as monarch all bets are off. The majority of Britons think he should stand aside for his son William - he certainly will not unless ill health intervenes.
The Republic website goes on to state: “There has also been a steady increase in the number of people who do not think the monarchy will survive in the long term. A 2002 poll showed that 70 per cent believe Britain will be a republic within 50 years (Mori 2002).”

Hence when Gibraltarians plan their future it must not be on the grounds that the status quo will apply. The questions have to be asked now - in 50 years will Britain have a president, will Spain be fractured, will the EU even exist and will the Treaty of Utrecht still rule Gibraltarians’ lives?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The political institutions in Gibraltar are based on the British model. Yet Gibraltarians share a key characteristic with their Spanish neighbours – family. The Gibraltarian and Spanish concept of family is totally unknown to Essex man or indeed woman. In Britain family is going home for Sunday lunch with mum or sending the grandparents off to an institution as soon as they start to dribble. However to be “de la familia” is at the very essence of life on both sides of the border.
The family applies not only to blood relatives but to those who share a political belief. It is at the core of low level corruption in Spain where the party in power at the town hall is expected to care for its political family. As I write the former mayor of La Línea, Juan Carlos Juárez, is on trial for allegedly giving over 100 municipal jobs to then GIL members and sympathisers when he came to power in 1999.
So does this “de la familia” or more widespread corruption exist on the Rock? I first asked a politician who is a household name from the governing GSD camp. He told me: “I should say that in my years in public life generally I never witnessed any attempt at corruption, bribery or the like. The more significant issue is probably the extent to which at a practical level, influence is enhanced by the degree of accessibility any one group of people can have over others in engaging with decision makers. That, of course, is a problem everywhere. This is not to say there may not have been more explicit issues in Gibraltar over the years, though I suspect they may have occurred at a much less extended level than has unfortunately been the case with our neighbours.”
Curiously a number of people have spoken to me off the record on this subject. In no instance was any case of political corruption identified rather in a small community they preferred nobody to know they’d even discussed it. Fabian Picardo, who could be the next leader of the GSLP, had no such qualms. It has to be said he has recently been the victim of malicious unfounded whispers. Fabian stated: “As in every aspect of life in Gibraltar, there are rumours rife of corruption all the time.  Nothing has ever been proved against anyone to date.  I give people the benefit of the doubt – even my political opponents (although they are rarely as kind to me).  No-one is guilty of anything until proven guilty in my book.  There are calls for an anti-corruption authority to be set up in Gibraltar to quash even the rumours.  I do not think that there would be anything wrong with such a body being established.  It would put paid to the allegations in my view if people had to put up or shut up!”
Of course the proposal to establish an anti-corruption authority comes from the lawyer Robert Vazquez. In his blog Llanito World Vazquez writes: “Gibraltar is plagued constantly with rumours of corruption and bribery.  True, indifferent or false does not matter.  These rumours are destructive and give a negative image.  There is a need to deal with this situation for the benefit of the jurisdiction and of citizens.  Dealing with it will also avoid the complacency and resignation to this subject that is often seen and shown to be prevalent.”
Has there been or will there be a corrupt Gibraltarian politician? The answer is of course “yes” because politicians are human with all the accompanying frailties. Yet having a corrupt politician is a far cry from having a corrupt political system as is the case in Spain. Therefore all political parties and the public in Gibraltar should endorse Vazquez’s anti-corruption authority because justice in this matter must not simply be done but be clearly seen to be done by all as well.
(The above article was the last section of a triology on pollitical corruption in Spain and Gibraltar published Panorama)

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The Spanish magazine Tiempo first broke the news that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla would be coming to Spain at the end of this month. It went on to state that a row was brewing over the possible inclusion of a visit to Gibraltar. Whether this was mischief making or based on fact is not known. However on Monday Clarence House issued an official statement on the three country tour and it is clear Gibraltar is not on the itinerary.
In a statement Clarence House said: “The British Government has asked The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to undertake official visits to Portugal, Spain and Morocco from 28th March to 6th April 2011.”

“The themes of the tour will include highlighting commercial diplomacy (including trade and investment promotion), co-operation on climate change and building a low-carbon economy, faith and minority communities and youth opportunities, the military and cultural links.

“The tour will begin in Lisbon, Portugal, where among other engagements The Prince and The Duchess will celebrate long-standing co-operation between the Portuguese and British Navies, support British trade and investment opportunities and highlight the work of the substantial resident British community. The President of Portugal will host an official dinner.
In Spain, The Prince and The Duchess will be received in Madrid by The Prince and Princess of Asturias, attend an official dinner at the Royal Palace and have lunch with Their Majesties The King and Queen of Spain. Again, trade and investment promotion will be to the fore to support the UK economy. Their Royal Highnesses will meet and thank the volunteers who support the large British population in Spain and will also visit Seville, where the Royal Couple will undertake a number of engagements throughout the city.

“The Spring Tour will finish in Morocco. In Rabat, Their Royal Highnesses will be guests of The King of Morocco, who will receive them for a meeting and an official dinner. The programme will focus on support for British companies and their work on corporate social and environmental responsibility, together with youth opportunities. Their Royal Highnesses will also visit the Moroccan 1st Parachute Infantry Brigade (The Prince of Wales is the Colonel-in-Chief of the British Parachute Regiment). Outside the capital, The Prince of Wales will visit the oasis at Errachidia where he will see efforts to prevent and mitigate the impact of desertification as well as the local community’s work to adapt to climate change. Their Royal Highnesses will also undertake engagements related to inter-faith dialogue and culture in the city of Fez.”
Tiempo had also suggested that Prince Charles and Camilla would make a private visit to Sotogrande during their tour, which of course is a short drive from Sevilla. From the luxury urbanisation in San Roque Gibraltar is clearly visible on the horizon. Charles’ brother, Prince Andrew has been a frequent visitor to Sotogrande and Andrew’s former wife, Sarah, holidays there most summers with her daughters. Ironically all have used Gibraltar’s airport to reach Spain without protest.
It is unlikely we shall ever know whether Gibraltar was on the palace’s suggested itinerary or whether the chief minister had lobbied for it. On past form it is unlikely the Foreign Office would have risked causing disruption to such an important tour by bringing Gibraltar in to the equation. In an extremely brief statement yesterday the Gibraltar Government announced the Chief Minister and Mrs Caruana would attend the Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey on April 29 and the government was not aware of any plans by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to visit Gibraltar at this time. Make of that what you will.
In ‘La Reina – Muy de Cerca’ – the biography on the Spanish Queen Sofía by celebrated journalist Pilar Urbano their is a section on the scenario surrounding the Spanish King and Queen’s boycotting of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding in 1981 because of the decision that they should sail on their honeymoon from Gibraltar.
According to the Spanish queen her British counterpart was shocked and dismayed when she found out that the honeymoon would depart from Gibraltar and hence it would be unacceptable for Sofía and Juan Carlos to attend the wedding as the Spanish government would just not accept it.
Juan Carlos apparently pleaded with the Queen for Prince Charles and Lady Diana to come first to the Bay of Cádiz, Algeciras, Málaga or other ports in Spain so that the Spanish Royals could greet them and then escort them to Gibraltar. Curious then that in 2011- 30 years on - a tour starting in Portugal, visiting Spain and going on to Morocco could not have included Gibraltar with the Spanish monarch or the Prince and Princess of Asturias riding with them to La Línea. It should be noted Charles and Diana’s itinerary was drawn up by the British Government and not the Royal Family.
(Photo: 2010 visit by Prince Charles and Camilla to the Czech Republic – Clarence House).

Thursday, March 10, 2011


A week ago a photograph appeared in the Gibraltar media. It showed the leader of Gibraltar’s Liberal Party, Dr Joseph Garcia, sitting down with the deputy leader of the UK’s Lib Dems, Simon Hughes. They say every picture tells a story and the real story here wasn’t they’d had a chat after the memorial service for the former Mayor of Southwark, Hilary Wines, which they did, but that the Gibraltar Liberal is a key member of that party internationally.
They say you are getting old when the policemen on the beat start to look young. Well I first met Dr Joseph Garcia many years ago and he was young and I wasn’t that old. Now I have entered “maturity” and Gibraltar’s Liberal Leader still looks and indeed is young. However looks can be deceiving and despite his youth over the years he has made a mark not only for his party within the Liberal International organisation but also amongst fellow Lib Dems in the UK.
I asked the Lib Dem Euro MP for Gibraltar, Graham Watson, for his estimation of the Rock’s Liberal leader. He told me: “Joseph is well known locally for his work for Liberalism in Gibraltar; but many on the Rock are unaware of his important contribution to wider Liberal efforts - in the UK Lib Dems, in the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and worldwide through the Liberal International.”
Indeed they are not. Not only has Dr Joseph steered what was a small Gibraltar party in to a strong coalition partnership with the GSLP but in so doing he has seen his personal standing and that of the Liberals rise considerably on the Rock’s political barometer. His name always charts amongst those naming who they would prefer as a chief minister. He has maintained his party’s identity and integrity yet worked in a close partnership with that wily old fox of a politician Joe Bossano. I am sure his success in Gibraltar is studied by thinking Lib Dems in the UK on how to enter and sustain a coalition without loosing your credibility or selling your soul.
At the next Gibraltar general election, whenever that may be, he will co-lead the GSLP – Liberal coalition in to battle with probably Fabian Picardo at his side. Yet it wouldn’t matter if it was Picardo or Bossano because whoever fights for the GSLP will have as their partner the best connected politician in Gibraltar.
I have no doubt Joe Bossano has a little red book but the names in it are probably Old Labour warriors like him. In Dr Joseph’s little black book are the names and numbers of the British Deputy Prime Minister, Lib Dem cabinet colleagues and the top Liberals world-wide.
I don’t know if the chief minister has a little contact book – all I’ve heard is that he’s a dab hand at throwing the telephone directory at people who incur his wrath. I am sure Simon Hughes isn’t in it as he went out of his way to meet as many people on his visit to Gibraltar, but the chief minister wasn’t one of them. I wonder why? I also suspect, I may be wrong, the chief minister doesn’t have the private number of David Cameron or come to that of the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague.
You can imagine the scene at Chez-Hague. The phone rings – Ffion get that for me will you – it’s who? – Peter? Peter who? – Caruana? – posh but foreign, he’s not Libyan is he? – Gibraltar – oh, Caruana, oh tell him I’m busy – very busy - I’m practicing judo with my male assistant!
(An edited version of the above appeared in Panorama on Monday March 7 2011)

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Answer me this. Over 300 years ago you lost a piece of land which in your heart you still believe belongs to you. You try siege then political pressure even cut off access all to no avail. Then one day, you are not given the land back, but you are given some important concessions – concessions which many people who live on the land believe to be a step too far. So what do you do?
My answer would be - grab them with both hands! I suspect yours might be the same – but it hasn’t been the Spanish response.
The Partido Popular has criticised the Córdoba Accord and Tripartite process saying it has been one-way traffic. Only Gibraltar has benefited from the agreements and in a sense the PP is right. It is not that there hasn’t been give and take, because there has, it is just that Spain hasn’t acted on its gains.
Spain has always disputed Gibraltar’s right to the airport land because it views it as land taken by Britain and outside the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. For years Madrid has hankered after joint use of the airport and under the Córdoba process, whilst joint use has not been agreed as such, there is to be a Spanish terminal. Hence Spain can market the airport for flights to the Campo de Gibraltar.
Yet what has happened – nothing? As Gibraltar has proceeded with its new terminal conveniently abutting the border so it can be used by Spain there is still no sign of the AENA terminal. I am sure the excuse would be put forward that La Línea has been uncooperative yet AENA has only called a meeting for March 11 to discuss the issue. Even if agreement is reached then, the accord has to be put in to writing and construction commenced probably not finished till after the Spanish general election. Are there designs? I haven’t seen them. Perhaps it is to be a garden shed alongside Gibraltar’s glittering terminal.
Direct flights to Madrid, remember them, were also a Spanish win for the accords. Iberia and Gibraltar Airways ran flights for a short while and then apart from Andalus, nothing. I have discussed this with Peter Cochrane (ex GBC) on Talk Radio Europe on a number of occasions. Peter cannot understand why Madrid has not ensured some sort of air service has been in operation as a matter of principal. I understand his point. Yet first they started with the wrong aircraft and bad time slots then the Andalus effort which needed support and marketing by Spain. This service crash landed leaving the under capitalised airline to fend for itself.
Spain has also been given the green light to open a Cervantes Institute in Gibraltar (to teach Llanitos to speak good Spanish). It is a cultural body but like the British Council has quasi diplomatic status and would have been an official Spanish office in Spain. No doubt it also has the right to fly the Spanish flag – but when will it open – Don Quixote alone knows.
When Spain’s foreign minister, Trinidad Jiménez, recently met her British counterpart William Hague in London she had to counter Spanish press claims that the PSOE government had gone cold on the Córdoba – Tripartite process.
One claim was that now the nitty-gritty was being discussed – territorial waters, judicial, police and other key matters – Madrid was backing off. That may be true but it still does not explain why Spain has not grasped the concessions it has achieved already.
It could be the economic crisis and the looming election in March of next year is concentrating PSOE minds. None-the-less it is mighty odd that having worked so hard for an accord with Gibraltar the socialist government is being so slow to take its winnings.
(Photo: F&CO)