Thursday, August 29, 2013


If you have heard the sound of weeping and gnashing of teeth if may have been Gibraltar’s hard-working MEP Sir Graham Watson fearing his re-election chances next May have been washed down the pan by one Andrew Duff MEP.

Of course if it wasn’t for the fact that Sir Graham is a gentleman the sounds of agony might have been the said Duff being run through with the Lib-Dem knight’s sword.

The Lib Dem vote in Gibraltar could have been dealt a severe blow thanks to the bizarre article “Goodbye to the Gibraltar Problem” by Andrew Duff MEP – who represents the East of England for that party. It appears Duff has just returned from holiday and given his baldpate probably didn’t wear a sun hat so his brain was fried.

Apparently Duff is an expert on Gibraltar. What’s going on at the moment is a “petty little spat” and all the fault of Fabian Picardo. The MEP tells his readers that “while the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 settled the sovereignty of the rock on Great Britain, nothing was established about control of the coastal sea.”

What Duff fails to tell his readers is that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives Britain the right to claim up to 12 miles for British Gibraltar Territorial Waters although the current limit stands at three miles, the tradition before the treaty came in to force. Even Franco recognised this but not the Duff.

He then goes on to tell his readers: “Uncharacteristically, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, reacted badly. Spanish border controls were increased and traffic delays lengthened. More was threatened, including the imposition of a 50 euro fee for crossing the border. There is certainly good evidence of smuggling and Gibraltar is known to be a centre for money laundering, so strict border controls are wholly reasonable.” Is that the Gibraltar Sir Graham represents?

The solution to the problem, says Duff, lies with the Schengen Agreement. He adds that the British being “proud islanders as we are, have refused to enter the Schengen area” which is of course Spain’s justification for having a border and controls at La Línea. He then goes on: “it would be perfectly possible to negotiate an exemption from the British opt-out for Gibraltar.” There’s more: “If Gibraltar was to join Schengen, the petty nationalists would be deprived of their soap box.”

Seemingly Duff sees no contradiction in the British being allowed to be “proud islanders” but the Gibraltarians not being able to be “proud Gibraltarians”.

Obviously Duff didn’t run his entire article through with the Spanish embassy or his beloved Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo because to paraphrase our Chief Minister - Hell would freeze over before Spain would allow Gibraltar to join Schengen independently. It would even put up one hell of a fight if the UK opted in. Andrew is clearly up the Duff.

The question is will this one man’s Lib Dem view of Gibraltar affect his party’s vote here in next May’s Euro elections. My suspicion is it won’t and here’s why.

First Gibraltarians are both a sophisticated people and electorate. They know that one lose cannon’s words are not necessarily representative of the party he is a member of. Peter Hain is loathed by Gibraltarians but Glyn Ford, who is number 2 on the Labour list for next May’s euro poll, gave sterling service to Gibraltar during his term as our MEP. Gibraltar has many loyal and staunch friends in Labour: it is Hain who is our pain.

Second Sir Graham deserves to be judged on his record and the plain fact is that Gibraltar has no finer or active advocate that this Lib Dem MEP. No other MEP has worked as hard for the Rock as Sir Graham and it would be a travesty if the Duff intervention counted against him.

Credit has also to be given to the Conservative – Lib Dem Government for staunchly defending Gibraltar against Spain’s aggression and our right to self-determination. I wonder what Duff’s “home-grown nationalists” – David Cameron and William Hague – who “were quick to climb on to the bandwagon” make of his words?

If there is justice in this world then the voters in the East of England will dump their duff MEP next May. I am sure the Partido Popular will find room for him in their ranks.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Rajoy and Margallo may have thought tightening the screws on Gibraltar would be a good rouse to divert attention away from their party’s corruptions scandals. Problem is Spaniards are smarter than their leaders and spotted that one a mile off.

Rajoy and Margallo might have thought they were merely expounding their Gibraltar Español mantra by making Gibraltarians, Spaniards, EU citizens and other nationals wait in their cars for eight hours in steaming heat. If that was the case they again have been sorely disappointed as they have been held up as bullies before the world.

Rajoy and Margallo might have thought it would just be a diplomatic spat between London and Madrid, which would follow the same pattern as previous incidents. OK Gibraltarians and the residents of La Línea might have been inconvenienced, but hey, who cares about them? Whoops got that one wrong too.

So if Rajoy and Margallo want to find out the real damage they have done they need to go to their own tourist and property sectors. The dynamic duo have just destroyed their country’s image before Britons: both holiday makers and property buyers. The effects will only be slightly felt now but 2014 could spell a meltdown.

There is a large community of Britons leaving in Spain and they will largely be unaffected from the fallout of the current crisis. A large proportion of those live in English-speaking ghettos anyway and their contact with Spain or Spaniards is minimal. Even if they wanted to sell up and move how would you do that in a dead property market? No the place where Rajoy and Margallo have inflicted the damage is in the tourism market and property markets.

By and large this year’s holidays are booked and paid for and no insurance company is going to cough up a refund because Spain has been bullying Gibraltar.

Next year though is a different matter. Probably over 12 million Britons holiday in Spain each year and Britons are by far the most important market for the Costa del Sol. They are important in Cádiz too although in some areas Germans come top. The problem for Spain’s tourist chiefs is to persuade 12 million Britons to return in 2014 when their country treats Gibraltar with such utter contempt. Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Turkey and Malta must all be rubbing their hands in glee. Come to a country that likes Britain they’ll proclaim: and Britons will. So Spanish hotel, restaurant, bar, car hire and holiday attraction owners will be shaking and fearing the worst – and rightly so.

However it goes deeper than that. Spain has been desperate to woo Britons to buy the huge number of empty, unsold properties on its books, especially those in the banks’ portfolios. Sales teams and presentations have been made in Britain to attract UK buyers. Although Russians and others may now be turning to Spain the problem is there numbers are so small it would take decades for them to replace the British who might consider buying despite the horror tales that already fill the UK press about illegal Spanish homes.

The fact is the Spanish tourist board and property sector can take all the ads in the UK they like but they will always be outgunned by the news media showing Rajoy and Margallo inflicting pain on Gibraltarians who are fellow Britons. Spain has started a fire storm on its economy and the tourism sector risks getting its fingers very badly burnt indeed. If Britons abandon the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Costa Blanca it will be an economic disaster for Spain – and once lost they may never return.

Would this impact on Gibraltar? Well it might, but the current figures from our tourist board suggest not so far. However the Brits are a rum breed and don’t be surprised if they decide to flock to Gibraltar rather than Spain next year just to defy Rajoy and Margallo in the most effective way they can.

Oh one final word to the wise in Madrid, presuming there are some in the PP. If you believe Spain has problems with Britons now, just try forming an alliance with Argentina and you won’t know what has hit you. The wider Murdoch Empire in which The Sun never sets is working up its headlines as I write.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


The UK’s former Europe Minister, Peter Hain, may be a pain to Gibraltarians but I assure you he is no more than that. To pretend he is just boosts his inflated ego which is only matched by his ‘perma-tan’ in intensity.

Hain and I are of an age. If you asked the man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus who he was you would probably get differing answers. People of my generation would probably link him with digging up cricket pitches as part of the anti-apartheid campaign. Others might know him for having been forced to resign in 2008 over 100,000 pounds in unrecorded donations to his deputy leadership campaign. He was the first resignation from Gordon Brown’s government and is today no longer of any importance in the Labour Party. In Wales people might remember the Kenya born MP as being their Welsh Secretary and he still is the MP for Neath. The majority will just shrug their shoulders and say “who?”

Of course the reaction to Hain in Gibraltar is very different. As Europe Minister he was the public face of the Blair – Aznar policy to bounce Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty deal with Spain in 2001. One of his profiles gives him the accolade of being “one of the most unpopular politicians ever to visit Gibraltar.” He remains so to this day.

Yet the fact was it wasn’t a Hain policy but part of the wider deals between Blair and Aznar which involved the Iraq War. Hain might like to claim credit but he was just the bag carrier: It was Blair and his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who bossed the UK’s foreign affairs; Hain who was never an effective minister didn't get a look in.

Ironically Hain might be looking at us right now as he tops up his perma-tan at his Estepona home. He boasted in his autobiography how his wife is almost mistaken for being Spanish, wishful thinking perhaps.

So it should be no surprise to anyone that Hain should pop up on the BBC Radio Four Today programme on Tuesday to still peddle the Blair – Aznar policy of joint sovereignty. Needless to say he couldn’t resist insulting our politicians and indeed the Gibraltarian people in the process.

Hain had his couple of minutes of belated fame but caused a backlash in the process. Today’s Labour Party in many ways wishes Blair had never happened. I read a profile in the Evening Standard (or whatever it’s called now) of the Labour candidates who hope to succeed Glenda Jackson as the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. Asked which Labour policy they most regretted all without exception stated the Iraq War – Blair’s War.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, and his Europe Minister, Emma Reynolds, have both spoken out in the past to stress their party’s commitment to Gibraltar on the same basis as the present Conservative – Lib Dem Government. Gibraltar would be as secure under a Labour administration as it is now. The person who is out of step with reality is Hain.

After Hain’s remarks on Tuesday he earned a rebuke from Hadleigh Roberts who is one of the Labour candidates in the SW England and Gibraltar six-seater constituency to be contested next May. Curiously I first met Hadleigh at last year’s Labour Party Conference and featured him in Panorama as a pro-European socialist, one to watch for the future. It never occurred to me at the time that one day he could be one of our Euro MPs.

On the Hain blast from the past Hadleigh had this to say: ‘The Labour Party continues to respect the Gibraltarian right to self-determination and their right to remain under British sovereignty. To that extent, Peter Hain’s comments on joint-sovereignty were not a description of current Labour policy. We remain convinced that the current tension must be resolved through dialogue, engagement and respect for the rights of Gibraltarian citizens. This dialogue must take place through the trilateral forum, which Labour created when in office. It is regrettable that the current Spanish central Government is the only party that refuses to participate in the trilateral forum.’

You can’t be clearer than that. We just have to accept that Hain is a Pain who lives in Spain – and ignore him.

(Photos: top – Peter Hain, bottom – Hadleigh Roberts)

Friday, August 2, 2013


Last week was not a good one for Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. First there was the train disaster in his native Galicia and second he has been ducking and diving over his involvement in the Barcenas corruption scandal. Then to make matter worse a letter was placed on his desk.

After months of speculation over the independence referendum in Cataluña, which Rajoy’s Government bitterly opposes,the region’s bid for self-determination is now formally on the table.

The Catalan president Artur Mas has written to Rajoy seeking to open the negotiations on an accord that would see Cataluña hold its referendum. Of course Rajoy knows well enough what Mas plans but it is only now it has been put in writing. That being the case Madrid will now have to make a formal response.

The scenario threatens to put the Spanish State in direct conflict with the Catalan Parliament whose MPs have voted by a majority to hold a referendum on independence. Indeed it was the central issue in the recent Cataluña general election with voters giving the go-ahead.

Although Cataluña has always had ambitions to be independent the current crisis started after a breakdown of talks between the Spanish and Catalan governments over a fiscal pact last autumn. As a result Mas now has a mandate to call the referendum as soon as possible.

Mas has called for immediate talks with the Spanish Government to open a dialogue and to negotiate an accord by which the people of Cataluña can celebrate the referendum as soon as possible with all the marks of legality.

Mas in his letter talks of the coming referendum in the UK which will see the people of Scotland asked whether they wish to remain in the Union or not. The Catalan leader sees distinct similarities between the two cases and of course in the UK the referendum process has been allowed by the British Government.

A number of other countries have also followed this path including some in the EU. Mas has called for the Catalan problem to be solved in the same way by the democratic will of the people in a legally binding referendum. 

All of this helps Gibraltar in a number of ways. First with the Catalans in open conflict with Madrid and a referendum held either legally, or more likely illegally, then the Spanish Government’s eyes will swivel east rather than south. Second other Spanish regions are likely to be emboldened by the Catalans to seek new relationships of their own with the State be they full independence or fuller autonomy. In other words we will start to see the disintegration of the Spanish State. Third, if the Spanish State is breaking up – with its components seeking the same rights and status as Gibraltarians – then Madrid also loses any pretence to a right to sovereignty over us.

What is currently a battle of views and words could soon ignite in to something more akin to what is being witnessed in Egypt and Turkey. There could be open protests and riots on the streets in Cataluña over the independence referendum and in wider Spain against the economic crisis and corruption. Elements in the Spanish armed forces have already hinted at intervention to preserve the State. A time bomb is ticking.

In the meantime whilst Britain’s staunch defence of Gibraltar is welcomed and is the corner stone of our security: it is events in Barcelona and not London that could be our eventual deliverance.