Friday, July 26, 2013


The latest confrontation between Gibraltar, Spanish fishermen and the Guardia Civil has me scratching my head. It fact it has me banging my head against a concrete block. 

First the area which the conflict has taken place is in British Gibraltar territorial waters so they belong to us. Second it is not just Whitehall and our government that says these waters are ours so too does international law. Hence whatever Madrid may say is irrelevant. Thirdly what goes on in those waters is the business of the UK and Gibraltar Government and of no concern to the Guardia Civil. And finally Cádiz fishermen should be fishing in Cádiz and Spanish waters so what happens in BGTW in no business of theirs at all, at all.

Of course Spain insists that Gibraltar has no territorial waters but that is not a local dispute between us and them it is Madrid flying in the face of the United Nations. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 sets out Gibraltar’s right to a three mile limit, and we could have 12 miles if we asked for it. Spain will claim that it signed the convention but will point out it added:

“In ratifying the Convention, Spain wishes to make it known that this act cannot be construed as recognition of any rights or status regarding the maritime space of Gibraltar that are not included in article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht of 13 July 1713 concluded between the Crowns of Spain and Great Britain. Furthermore, Spain does not consider that Resolution III of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea is applicable to the colony of Gibraltar, which is subject to a process of decolonization in which only relevant resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly are applicable."

This clause has no basis in international law and is yet more Madrid gobbledegook. The fact is Gibraltar’s three mile limit is recognized by the UN and whether Rajoy or any other Spanish politician agrees with it or not is neither here nor there. Our waters are a legal fact.

So why are we dropping blocks of concrete in to the waters of Gibraltar? No.6 in a statement tells us: “The Government announced the creation of reefs in different parts of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) as part of its marine protection strategy when it published the fishing report. These reefs will increase biodiversity and provide refuge for many marine species."

It would therefore follow at least as far as I can see that the actions of dropping the blocks is not an affront to environmentalists but in fact an environmentally good thing to do. It will preserve fish stocks albeit it may make raping the bottom of our seas by Spanish fishermen that more difficult. Good I say.

Gibraltarians enjoy the right to vote in European elections not because our Government or indeed the UK Government secured them for us but because private individuals took it upon themselves to take our case before the European Court. 

It may be that for political reasons our own Government and indeed the UK Government do not wish to test the Treaty of Utrecht or indeed our right to territorial waters in the international courts. However the fact is that until somebody does the confrontations that have been going on for many a year will continue for many a year more.

Spain is not going to go to court because it knows its arguments do not have a legal leg to stand on. Surely this nation of lawyers has amongst its number those who will fight for Gibraltar’s corner and bring an end to this Spanish nonsense once and for all. I don’t expect Danny Feetham to don his wig and gown and stand up for Gibraltar but may be there are others who will.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Whilst there is great satisfaction in Gibraltar over the eventual success of the GFA being admitted to UEFA this is also great anger that our rugby players have been denied membership of their European association. Needless to say the stumbling block on both occasions has been Spain.

Indeed Spain’s sporting organizations are under orders from Madrid to block any membership attempts by our sporting bodies to join the associations of which they are members. It may be that some of those organizations do not object to our associations joining but that is by the by because the politicians have ruled that we shall not be admitted.

When it comes to mixing politics with sport, a game at which Spain are world champions, there may be an inclination to match fire with fire. However I would suggest extreme caution. Currently we hold the high moral ground and as has been magnificently demonstrated by the GFA patience, a regard for the law and sticking to sporting principles can at the end of the day make dreams come true.

Even our rugby union managed to get a majority backing their application to join but not a sufficient majority to make that a reality. It is quite obvious from the actions of Spanish politicians be they actual politicians, diplomats or administrators that they politicized an amateur sport.

However what is significant from Sweden is that the GRFU made friends and influenced people and the likelihood is that when their membership comes up again for the vote they will gain acceptance or the vote will move further in their favour.

I am of the opinion that the Spanish Government by speaking out against the GFA’s application to join UEFA and vowing to prevent it politically and legally were in breach of UEFA’s and FIFA’s strict rules on the interference in sport by political bodies. Indeed Spain must not be allowed to practice sporting apartheid in relation to Gibraltar be it our children participating in a tournament or the blocking of our national teams.

Our response has to be sporting and legal. On no account must we politically enter this battle because then Madrid will simply point to the involvement of our government doing what its own government has done for years. It is a case of two wrongs not making a right. Our arguments have to be based on our rights as sportspeople and the legality of our applications.

Of course it goes without saying that only in the cases where the sporting association in question meets the criteria laid down by the European or international body should our organization be supported. In other words if our shove ha’penny team hasn’t a ha’penny to shove then the world body for that pastime has ever right to tell them to shove off.

However where all the criteria are met then the association in question should not receive political support from our government but instead be given access to heavyweight legal advice and indeed a legal team as was the GFA. Spain needs to be confronted in the courts of law, being they sporting or judicial, and Madrid’s policy of apartheid and discrimination be shown before the world for exactly what it is to that nation’s shame.

Friday, July 12, 2013


I am British, I speak English primarily but also Spanish. I can get by in French and have a handful of words in Bulgarian, Hungarian, Zulu and Afrikaans. If you asked me what languages do Gibraltarians speak I would say they are trilingual speaking English, Spanish and Llanito.

Given Gibraltar’s close links with Britain it is natural that English should be the major language. Apart from anything else we need English for our education, in law as well as business. Spain is our neighbour so it is equally sensible for Gibraltarians to be able to speak Spanish. To be bilingual in this day and age is a great asset and in English and Spanish we have the two major languages other than Chinese.

Across the border in Spain they are busy trying to teach their children English not specifically because of the closeness of Gibraltar but because it is the major language internationally. Schools that offer a bilingual curriculum are cropping up in every town: the problem is the quality of the teachers often leaves a lot to be desired.

Over the generations that border workers have come to work in Gibraltar they have developed their own patois originally based on words that dock workers collected from English speakers and visiting ships. These words now make up part of the argot of La Linea.

All this came to mind because in the Spanish media recently there have been articles bemoaning the fact that Gibraltarian children do not now speak Spanish as a natural tongue. The point being made is that their parents learnt by ear and are natural Spanish speakers whilst their children are not and only learn Spanish in classes at school.

I was surprised to learn this fact and when I was first told a year or so ago I asked a teacher who informed me that this was so. Curious really given the influence of Spanish in our lives in cross border visits and the media.

I remember talking to a retired Gibraltarian teacher who told me that prior to the evacuation at the time of the Second World War the majority of Gibraltarians spoke Spanish and not English. Those who spoke English would probably have been the business classes who had close links with the military. He added that when the evacuees returned and schools were re-established on the Rock the Religious Brothers who came to teach here had to first undergo Spanish lessons.

I have no reason to doubt his words but that would mean that in the period of 60 years Gibraltar’s children had gone from being Spanish speakers to English speakers.

Language defines a people and the mixture of language in Gibraltar is part of what makes a Gibraltarian a Gibraltarian. The unique ability to switch from English to Spanish at the drop of a hat with a stop along the way into Llanito. However if the Spanish are correct and our young people speak English and only treat Spanish as a foreign language then could that also endanger the future of Llanito which requires a knowledge of both tongues.


Following my article in Panorama on Tuesday about whether our young people are learning Spanish as a second language or speaking it naturally I received a kind message from Bart Van Thienen. Bart had read the article in Panorama on the internet and posted it for his friends.

Although I am grateful for his kind words what interested me more is what he posted on his Facebook page. Bart wrote: “A very interesting article for my Belgian friends, we too as Flemish people had to await the Second World War to get education in our own language and even justice in Flemish (dialect of Dutch). Even today the Belgian king speaks Flemish with a heavy French accent although French speakers are only 30% of the population...”

I was in Brussels a short while ago and the French – Flemish divide is a bit of a nightmare. When I go to Paris I always try to use what French I have and I have to say despite their reputation Parisians are normally generous in allowing for mistakes. However what do you speak in Brussels? How do you know if a person, restaurant or shop is French or Flemish?

My guidebook told me as people can be offended if you speak French to a Flemish speaker or vice versa the best thing to do is speak English. Which is what I did. When I thought a person was French I did risk a mumbled few words but was never quite sure whether they were actually Flemish in disguise.

I know there are people in Gibraltar who believe that as the Rock is British then English should be the common language. I know people are annoyed when they go into a shop and find if they speak English they are simply not understood because the staff are Spanish. You have seen these issues debated in Panorama either in articles or in the letters column oft times before.

However it is a fact that if Gibraltarians can speak English and Spanish then it is an enormous asset to our community because we have the two major languages in the world, other than Chinese, covered. So both in the worlds of business and tourism we are one jump ahead. Compare that to Spain where few speak English, not even the country’s leaders, or the UK where they speak English normally at home and very loudly and slowly when confronting Johnny Foreigner abroad.

The trick for Gibraltarians is to use their language skills to enhance the nation and have a balance so that Gibraltar is neither a language colony of the UK or Spain. However I believe that what really defines a Gibraltarian is the ability to slip in to Llanito: but as I said in my last article surely to do so you need to speak Spanish.

Some 20 years ago I used to record a radio programme called “If It’s In The Press, It’s Got To Be True!” For some episodes I took the Llanito conversation columns from Panorama and used them in the script. We had a Spanish actress on the show, who spoke good English and was in fact an English teacher. I duly presented her with the script and her face was a picture. She said I know most of these words, but I haven’t a clue what it means. That’s Llanito for you.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I believe there are two sets of candidates in this by-election: those who are in it to win and those who are standing more in hope than in expectation.
In the first camp is Albert Isola, who is standing to replace the late lamented Charles Bruzon. The GSLP naturally hopes that Isola will retain Bruzon’s seat and if he does I believe he will bring added even exceptional talents to the government. Also in this camp I put Nick Cruz because I suspect he believes he has the ability to win even if the reality is he may have to settle for second. Ironically a victory for Isola and second for Cruz would mark them both down as winners. Interestingly those I have spoken to say that is how they rated them after the Caleta Chamber dinner.
In the second group are the GSD who had they been wise would never have been in the race in the first place. However they are so their objective has become not to snatch a GSLP seat but to stop themselves being shoved in to third (or even fourth) place. Bryan Zammit the Second is the rank outsider but he wants to heighten his profile. I have no trouble with that: a man can not live by pizza alone.
As Danny Feetham learnt before with his short spell as Labour leader breakaway parties usually go unelected and hence have a hard time of it. However the party that Keith Azopardi built and Nick Cruz now leads has a genuine chance not so much to be elected but to force itself into the mainstream political arena.
If the PDP can put up a good showing in this election and push the GSD in to third place then at the next election, when a full slate of seats are up for grabs, we could well see PDP MPs in Parliament: they may even form the Opposition.
Cruz has already shown he understands the right strategy for this election with his statement on the government’s budget which was largely supportive. Of course he will set down how the PDP would govern differently from the GSLP and Liberals, he will offer constructive criticism, but his real task is to persuade GSD voters that their home is now with his party and not that of Feetham. He has to tackle the GSD head on.
There is only one result that will save Feetham and that is for the GSD to win Charles Bruzon’s seat. If they come second Feetham will have failed at his first fence. If the GSD comes second with the PDP breathing down its neck alarm bells will ring in the party’s ranks. If the PDP come second it could spell the beginning of the end of Feetham’s hold on power. In this election the PDP has everything to win and the GSD everything to lose.
I have a soft spot for the PDP and have written here before about my admiration for how in the past they have engaged in community politics. I have to say I believe the PDP is miles from being a party of government and in many ways the party organisation has been woeful – they could learn a lot from the old unelected GNP-Liberals. None-the-less with a new leader they have a new opportunity and could yet become the new GSD.
As always it will be for you, the voters, to decide.