Thursday, July 26, 2012


August is fast approaching and I have my summer reading ready. When I was in London I bought a copy of Alastair Campbell’s latest diaries on Blair and the Iraq War (The Burden of Power: the countdown to Iraq). By chance I flicked though it last night to see what references there were on Gibraltar: three to be exact and very brief: my first reaction was they were of little interest.

However having slept on it I awoke this morning to realise Blair’s first reference to Gibraltar was in fact dynamite. I then read our Government’s statement on the Guardia Civil incursion on Friday and I believe in a very roundabout way there is a link.

Back to Blair who in Campbell’s book is preparing for a press conference with the Spanish premier José María Aznar. Blair asks Aznar: “What do you want me to say on Gibraltar?” Before Aznar can reply Campbell jumps in as shouts “Don’t answer that!”

Last night I took another sip of my gin and tonic and moved on. This morning I found the reference again whilst drinking my green tea and needed nothing stronger. Here is the British Prime Minister of the day asking the Spanish Prime Minister what Madrid wants him to say about Gibraltar. My God, thank goodness Campbell was there to stop the answer although we know from the joint sovereignty debacle that followed just what it was!

Now a lot of water has flowed under Westminster Bridge since then but in some ways relations between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have not changed one jot. Spain, especially PP governed Spain, is still the bully and it knows that every time it give Gibraltar a Chinese burn No.6 has to run to Whitehall for help.

The problem is Westminster and Whitehall are none too keen to get involved. Anglo - Spanish relations always come before Anglo – Gibraltar relations simply because Spain is more important to the UK as a trading and political partner than Gibraltar is. I suspect as I write a Mandarin in the Foreign Office is dusting down a formal protest to Madrid on Friday’s incident: it will be presented and accepted with all due ceremony then put in the cardboard box with all the others and promptly forgotten about.

Let me give you two scenarios: on Friday night a French Gendarmerie patrol boat boarded a UK vessel in British waters off Dover and under darkness took the boat to Calais where the innocent crew where held for two hours and then released. Result: all hell would have broken loose, the TV news channels would be giving blanket coverage, politically and diplomatically Britain would be breathing fire!

OK, on Friday night an Argentinean naval patrol boarded a Falkland’s vessel in the island’s waters and took it under darkness to Buenos Aires where the British crew were held and questioned before being released. Result: Britain would be jumping up and down at the UN and Royal Navy patrols would be beefed up.

So too last Friday: a Guardia Civil armed patrol boat boards a British vessel in Gibraltar’s water and takes it in darkness to Algeciras where after two hours questioning the crew and boat are finally released.

Is Britain breathing fire? No!

Is it receiving 24 hours UK news coverage? No!

Has Britain increased its Royal Navy presence? No!

Is Britain’s ambassador to the UN lodging an urgent protest? No!

The key difference between the first and second scenarios and Gibraltar is they took place in British home waters and the oil rich waters of the Falklands. Gibraltar is adrift, alone, in the waters of the bay – albeit it British Territorial ones, which some Whitehall Mandarin thought were off Algeria, so left to Spain under the EU’s environmental plans.

And so we return to the ghost of a British Prime Minister asking his Spanish counterpart – “What do you want me to say on Gibraltar?”

The fact is the waters, airspace and borders of Gibraltar will only be fully secure when Gibraltar and not Britain defends them. Gibraltar has to stand up alone to the Spanish bully and until it does the pinching and punching will go on and on and on. The ultimate challenge is will Gibraltar take on this nasty bully because London won’t.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Leaving the issues of the Treaty of Utrecht and sovereignty aside the most important decision that may have to be faced by Gibraltar in the coming years is will it remain a member of the EU?
Ironically Gibraltar is a member of the EU solely by virtue of the UK’s membership. Gibraltar will cease to be part of the EU if the British Government withdraws. Gibraltarians should have a vote in any UK referendum on the issue but its 20,000 votes are unlikely to swing the decision one way or the other. What is more if Gibraltar votes to stay in and the UK votes for pulling out: the Rock is out.
Britain’s continuing membership is vital for our Financial Centre and the Financial Centre is vital for the future financial stability and independence of Gibraltar. In the Budget debate, Gilbert Licudi, the Financial Services Minister spoke of exploring new emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the so called BRIC countries, which are enjoying massive economic growth. This he pointed out was particularly relevant as Gibraltar can offer them an alternative entry point into the European single market. Or it can if the UK remains in the EU.
So what if Britain withdrew? One of the first persons I asked was Marc X Ellul in his role as chairman of the Association of Trust and Company Managers. His response was short but sweet: “I consider it to be something which will not ever happen.” I mention what he said because in part I agree with his view: however the job of government is about planning not only for what will happen but also for what might not happen.
My personal view is also that withdrawal is unlikely. All recent UK Governments have been pro-Europe even the Conservative euro sceptic ones. Tories might moan about Brussels but when it comes down to it bitching and pulling out are two different things. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague was interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC recently just after his boss David Cameron had made his widely reported time for a referendum comments. It was clear Hague believes Britain’s place is firmly within the EU.
The scenario for Britain’s withdrawal comes at the next election. The Conservatives now cut adrift from the Liberals against Labour know that the British public favour a referendum on withdrawal. Hence it makes sense to a euro sceptic party to include in its manifesto a commitment to hold an ‘in or out’ referendum. Cameron will be desperate to carry the euro sceptics with him for they have nowhere else to go except to UKIP which could steal enough votes or seats to usher in a Labour or Labour – Lib Dem coalition. I believe any future Tory - Lib Dem deal is dead in the water.
So Britain could have a Conservative Government (or even a Tory – UKIP coalition) where an “in out” referendum is granted to the clamouring masses. Given that the Murdoch press and other media such as the Express and Mail will campaign for pulling out that is indeed the way things may go.
Britain and Gibraltar pull out: what then for our Financial Centre? My first port of call was the Financial Centre itself who sent me to Stuart Green for comment. He told me: “The finance centre has been built on the basis of access to the EU internal market. The implications of the UK departing from the EU would depend on the arrangements that would then be put in place between the UK and the EU upon the UK’s exit.” Basically Stuart’s comments leave us none the wiser but hint at pending doom if the arrangements are not in our favour.
Next stop was Emma Perez who apart from being CEO of SG Hambros is president of the Gibraltar Banker’s Association. I caught her on the hop but she told me: “The first things that spring to mind however would be the loss of passporting capabilities for Gibraltar Banks into EU and also the implications which could arise vis a vis EU directives which would therefore not be applicable.” This ability to passport into the EU of course is what Minister Licudi is basing his entire BRICS strategy on.
Finally I spoke to James Lasry who is Chairman of Gibraltar Funds and Investments Association. He stated: “Gibraltar is firmly within the EU and its legislative framework and it has positioned itself over the last decades to maximise its position within this context. It would be difficult to conceive of Gibraltar not being within the Union. The funds and investment industries take full advantage of the passporting rights afforded to EU members.”
Yes James, but is there life for the Finance Centre after EU death by withdrawal? His answer is positive. He continued: “Having said this, if Gibraltar were to cease to belong to the Union, its infrastructure and experience could be reapplied to use in non-European contexts such as in the cases of the Channel Islands."
Marc X Ellul believes the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is unlikely, and I agree, but at least we have the reassurance of James Lasry who believes our Financial Centre still has a strong future based on the Channel Islands model. The success of Gibraltar’s financial sector and our very economy will depend our ability to adapt to a sound “in or out” strategy.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Divide and Rule has been a strategy used by governments and their ambassadors since Roman times when it was known as ‘divide et impera’: divide and conquer is another variation.

The statement by the Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St James, Federico Trillo, is another typical example of this ancient ploy. The centre right Partido Popular government, stung by its Conservative led coalition counterpart in London refusal to enter in to bilateral talks on Gibraltar, is bent on causing mischief.

This year David Cameron has made the strongest statements ever by a British Prime Minister on the right of Gibraltar to self determine its own future whilst also insisting no talks would be held with Spain without Gibraltar’s agreement.

He is not alone. Cameron’s words have been echoed by both the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and his Minister for Europe, David Lidington. So either these members of the British Government are involved in the biggest deception towards Gibraltar ever or Federico Trillo is being mischievous (but may be not totally lying).

I do not believe the British Government is deceiving Gibraltar for one very simple reason that has nothing to do with the Rock: the Falklands. London sees direct linkage between Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas and Spain’s insistence on the Gibraltar Español dogma. Hence when London proclaims “no surrender” it means it because the Falklands is sitting on liquid gold and is a handy staging post to extract valuable mineral deposits in the South Pole region. Give way on Gibraltar and you loosen your hold on the Falklands. You didn’t believe it was about democracy did you?

I did however say that Trillo might not be totally wrong. Trillo is an ambassador and not a politician. Hence it is quite possible that he is involved with bilateral shenanigans with his opposite number in Madrid or indeed Mandarins at the Foreign Office. In the world of diplomacy anything could be going on and I doubt whether even Cameron or Hague are aware of it. Yes Minister still rules ok?

There is a valid view that says that the Gibraltar Government should demand Trillo withdraws his statements but I am not sure if that is productive or not. It might just give the wily ambassador more scope for mischief. He may be testing the water, Spanish waters of course, to see what disquiet he can cause. Also should we throw a rock at him every time he pops his head over the wall and shouts Gibraltar Español or simply ignore him?

At the end of the day it is for London to deny there are any bilateral talks going on and to restate its position on Gibraltar. Also if Cameron and Rajoy or Hague and Margallo meet and the Spanish side raises Gibraltar that is bilateral – even if Britain restates its stout defence of the Rock’s interests and right to self determination.

There has to be trust between No 10 and No 6 and I believe that exists. I do not believe that Cameron or Hague are out to stab Picardo or Gibraltar in the back. I know they are politicians but I do believe the British Government’s staunch defence of Gibraltar’s right to self determination for the reasons I have already stated.

So Trillo will try and destabilise that trust: and is he talking bilaterally over fino and chorizo to Whitehall Mandarins in a Knightsbridge tapas bar? Probably.

Friday, July 6, 2012


An opinion poll in Spain is hitting the news headlines because it confirms what I have been saying all along that for the average Spaniard Gibraltar is simply not an issue. Sure if you ask a Spaniard is Gibraltar Spanish the stock answer would probably be Gibraltar Español: but then he would go back to watching the football or she with the task of preparing the family meal and not give it another thought.

The poll findings suggest that for 60 per cent of Spaniards the dispute over Gibraltar is of little importance and should not be on the country’s foreign policy agenda.

The soundings by the Real Instituto Elcano published on Thursday also show a split on the strategy being followed in the confrontation between the fishermen of the Campo de Gibraltar and our government.

Four out of ten people believe there should be greater diplomatic pressure whilst 44.1 per cent prefer the tension to be lowered. This is three times more than the previous percentage seeking a softly softly approach.

Not surprisingly the answers are significantly different depending on the political ideology of the person questioned.

Amongst voters on the right, that is right-wing Partido Popular supporters, 50 per cent believe that the dispute over Gibraltar is quite or very important in Spain’s foreign policy. However that percentage drops to 32 per cent amongst voters of the centre and dips lower to 30 per cent amongst those on the left.

The same bias is shown when the second question on the fishing dispute is asked with regard to the banning of local fleets from Gibraltar’s waters.

Amongst the heirs to Franco on the right six out of ten want to strengthen the diplomatic pressure however 51 per cent on the left want the tensions to be reduced. In the centre it is more divided with 44 per cent going for tightening the diplomatic screw and 42 per cent easing it.

However as I have said oft times before in Spain as a nation as compared with the Campo de Gibraltar the Rock does not rate as the burning issue of the day. When you stand at a bar or queue at the supermarket checkout Gibraltar is not what everybody is nattering about.

As the Chief Minister observed earlier this year for Spaniards there are many burning issues but they are not Gibraltar. The collapse of the economy, the frighteningly high rates of unemployment especially amongst the young and the cases of people being made homeless, thrown out on the streets by the same abusive banks that caused the crisis: this is what resonates amongst Spaniards young and old.

Any Spanish politician who cries Gibraltar Español in order to divert attention from the nation’s woes will simply be greeted with derision. Say what you will about Spaniards but they are not idiots and smell a red herring a mile off: especially when being hawked by a right wing politician.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


There can be few people in Gibraltar who are not aware of the latest banking scandals to strike in the UK. First 17 million RBS – Nat West customers found they couldn’t access their accounts or make transfers because the bank’s computer system collapsed. Then we have the Libor fixing debacle at Barclays which could yet spread to RBS again, HSBC, Citibank, UBS amongst others. Then just when you thought matters couldn’t get worse along comes the mis-selling of interest rate products in which 28,000 small UK businesses were sold these products by Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Lloyds. These banks now have to pay out massive compensation.

Of course many of these banking names are well known to Gibraltarians because they dominate our retail banking sector too just as they do in the UK. It doesn’t need me to talk of the moral collapse within the international banking system it is there for all to see.

On Saturday I attend the Fabian Society Summer Conference in London. The theme was Labour’s Next Majority and the highlight was to have been a Q and A session with Opposition leader Ed Miliband. Due to the banking crisis Miliband shortened his Q and As and instead made a keynote speech on banking in general and Barclays in particular.

An interesting point the Labour leader made was that if a person goes in to a supermarket, shoplifts some products worth a few pounds and is caught he or she will certainly be prosecuted with a real possibility they will be jailed. If a rogue banker cheats people by rigging the Libor rate or mis-selling businesses products which could have driven them to the wall they walk away Scott free with their bonuses all too often intact. Where is the morality in that?

By chance this week the BBC is running a series of programmes on getting old. Broadcaster Gloria Honeyford, who is no spring chicken herself, moved in for a few days with a retired woman living on her own. When all her expenses were paid she was left with just three pounds a day on which to eat and buy household products.

Gloria went to the supermarket with her with the intention of buy some meat, vegetables and pasta to make a Bolognese dish to last a few days. She was horrified to find the three pound would not cover the price of the ingredients: it would take two days budget if she bought nothing else.

Now in an email between the Barclays Libor traders one asked another to fix the rate to get him out of a spot and the reward would be a bottle of Bolly. Well I doubt if at the troughs bankers drink at a bottle of Bollinger gives any change from 100 pound and of course the rarer vintages can run in to hundreds or thousands. Even at 100 quid it was more than the lady in Gloria’s documentary had for food in a month. Ill gotten gains indeed.

However this is not just a story of London or New York or the other financial capitals of the world. There are too many families or elderly people in Gibraltar who are struggling to make ends meet: who everyday have to struggle to put food on the table and on some days don’t. These have nots are closely watched every day they go in to Morrisons or the local shop to make sure they don’t lift an apple or make off with a packet of pasta.

Yet we all know there are those in our midst who have benefited in recent years from lucrative contracts and sweetener deals to line their pockets. The government is investigating many of these and in due course these misdeeds will be laid bare with some people, possibly even former government ministers, standing in the dock. In the arrogance of their years in power the cry was in Gibraltar as in London’s financial districts – let them drink Bolly!

The jury is still out on Barclays' chief executive – in all likelihood Bob will be found not to have been a Diamond geezer after all. The same fate awaits those who abused the people of Gibraltar: their corks have popped and its time for justice.