Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999 so it will come as no surprise to you that he writes a blog for the Daily Telegraph. Recently he penned an item: “Gibraltarians understand what it means to be British. Do we?” Sorry Mr Hannan, I take the view that Gibraltarians are Gibraltarians; the days of empire are over albeit probably not for Torygraph readers or Conservative politicians.
Mr Hannan has been chatting to the chief minister in London so now has a clear view of Caruana’s Gibraltar. Sadly it doesn’t match up to reality on the Rock but no surprises there either.
Hannan writes: “As recently as thirty years ago, 60 per cent of Gibraltar’s GDP came from the Ministry of Defence. Now that figure has fallen to six per cent, and the Rock's extraordinarily diversified economy includes financial services and online gaming. As it weaned itself off government spending, Gib became wealthier, happier and freer. There is no banking crisis here, no structural unemployment, no austerity programme; the government continues to run healthy surpluses. Indeed, the only thing that puzzles me is that the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, who has presided over this transformation since 1996, and who is up for re-election in a couple of weeks' time, should not enjoy 99 per cent approval ratings.”
So I asked Dr Joseph Garcia for his take on Hannan’s words. Not only is he the leader of the Liberal Party but has an unrivalled grasp on the history of Gibraltar – so is the ideal person to put the real Gibraltar in to context. He told me: “The analysis made by the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan is somewhat superficial and unduly generous to Mr Caruana. It is true that UK defence spending in Gibraltar has reduced considerably over the years. However, Gibraltar has not received a penny from the UK in development aid since 1986. This predates Caruana’s coming into power by a decade. The adjustment to transform the economy from a sheltered MOD based economy into a commercial one also predates Caruana coming into office. The naval dockyard, which was the Rock’s largest employer, closed down in 1984/5. It fell directly to Sir Joshua Hassan’s AACR (Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights) Government and that of his predecessor Joe Bossano (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party) to deal with the transformation of Gibraltar’s economic base.
“The Caruana Government built on the foundations that were laid by others. For example, bunkering of ships in the Bay and the origins of the offshore gaming industry were both present in Gibraltar before Caruana came into office. The MEP says that there is no banking crisis in Gibraltar. Of course there is no banking crisis. There are no "Gibraltarian" owned banks and there is no Gibraltarian currency. The main retail banks that operate in Gibraltar are branches of UK banks. The same squeeze on lending that exists in the United Kingdom also exists in Gibraltar where it has become increasingly difficult for businesses to obtain loans and for potential homebuyers to obtain a mortgage. Indeed, the Caruana Government itself recently announced its intention to mortgage £20 million of its own office blocks in order to raise capital to finance the construction of a private office development because private sources of finance were unavailable to the developers in Gibraltar. It is only comparatively recently that the Caruana Government has recognised that there is an unemployment problem for Gibraltar residents which has been generated by the influx of cross-border labour from Spain. The Government has resorted to setting up a scheme in certain industries, for example, by which companies that obtain Government contracts will have to employ locally resident labour. This came after years of arguing that those who were out of work were either too choosy or simply did not want to work.”
Oh that Caruana’s Gibraltar existed in reality and not just within his haven at Number Six. He obviously takes it out for walks on occasion, even to London, what a pity that gullible politicians like Mr Hannan believe all they are told and don’t question what is fact and what is fiction.
A suggestion: next time you enjoy the chief minister’s hospitality, Mr Hannan, ask him about Gibraltar’s 500,000 million pound debt. In his July budget speech the Leader of the Opposition, Fabian Picardo, said that equalled 23,762 pounds per voter. The UK’s Office for National Statistics put British debt at 33,100 pounds per household, so far lower than Gibraltar’s. When you mention that to the chief minister Mr Hannan make sure he isn’t eating a sausage roll!