Thursday, October 24, 2013


Whenever I am in Brussels, which to be honest isn’t that often, I always try and touch base with our Lib Dem Euro MP, Sir Graham Watson. I have described Graham many times as our man at the EU because of our six elected MEPs he is by far the most proactive on our behalf.

I met up with him for coffee last Thursday before he headed off for a busy Brussels day and then flew home to his constituency, which could be anywhere in the South West of England or indeed Gibraltar.

I was taken up to Graham’s office by Sonia, one of his hardworking team. Sonia has skills involving throwing coffee cups in to the air, which are rare even at the EU, but my lips are sealed. However she gave an interesting insight in to Graham’s widespread constituency.

Euro MPs are allowed to claim for travel to and from their constituencies. However she was having a lot of trouble with the EU’s fees office over Graham’s travel to Gibraltar. Officials could not understand why the UK MEP for the South West of England was flying to Gibraltar and even on occasions to Málaga. There is no other constituency of this type in the EU and of our six Euro MPs Graham is a frequent visitor whilst the others are not.

Needless to say the two key topics on our agenda over coffee were EU related. The awaited report by the EU inspectors on the summer border chaos and the Commission’s State Aid enquiry.

There is still no word on the outcome of the inspection at our border although it took place around a month ago. However I suspect four weeks is not a long time in Brussels. Graham has been pushing for the report to be issued and is very bullish on what he believes should be its conclusions. Graham here has two advantages: he has sat in the queues himself and he knows how the EU works so he hopes justice is done and is seen to be done in Gibraltar’s favour.

The European Commission’s decision on starting a State Aid enquiry had just been announced and was welcomed by our own Government who believe we are in a good place. Indeed anybody who listened to our Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, speak on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme at the crack of dawn on Monday will know he totally disarmed what was set to be an aggressive attack from his business affairs interviewer.

Graham had been monitoring the Twitterati in Gibraltar who had smelt a rat in that it was a Spanish Commissioner who would be investigating our affairs. It could not be any other way as Joaquín Almunia is the EC Commissioner in charge of this specific matter and the EC has to investigate a complaint when it is laid.

However as I pointed out to Graham and have written here previously Joaquín Almunia is hardly flavour of the month in Madrid and is not on Rajoy’s Christmas card list. In July he declared that Spain’s ship yard subsidies were illegal and had to be repaid with the industry warning that 87,000 jobs could be put at risk, many in Almunia’s home territory. The figure paid out in subsidies is 2.8 billion euros but the figure to be repaid, which could be 20 per cent less, has yet to be fixed. When you are an EC Commissioner you serve the EU not the country that appointed you.

The elephant in the room whilst we sipped coffee and chatted was would Graham be here this time next year. Indeed I had just attended in Brussels a PES election strategy meeting designed to get socialists in and others including Lib Dems out. Interestingly though when I voiced my support for Graham to PES members it was clearly obvious he was highly regarded in the socialist camp.

The South West of England constituency of which Gibraltar is part is not typical of the UK. Graham admits this will probably be his hardest fought election yet. The Lib Dems are on the slide and it remains to be seen how UKIP and the Conservatives will do in a Euro seat where they hold two and three seats respectively. I along with many others will be working to ensure one of those seats at least goes to Labour. None-the-less I will also be supporting Sir Graham Watson the Man because I believe if he loses his seat, Gibraltar will lose its most powerful advocate in Brussels.


Around mid-morning last Wednesday I was talking to colleagues from Rumanian and Poland at the Europcom 2013 Conference at the EU’s Committee of the Regions. The red light on my Blackberry started to flash and as I opened up the email my face obviously changed from happy chatter to stunned silence. It was significantly different enough for my colleagues to ask was everything was alright. I assured them it was but hurriedly moved away.

What I had seen on the Blackberry screen was the Gibraltar Español banner beneath which was a bizarre photograph of the GSD Leader Daniel Feetham. Then the message from Gibraltar Español itself: “#Gibraltar Daniel Feetham critica el ataque a #España en la ONU de Fabian Picardo y Denis Matthews. parece que por fin empieza a aparecer gente cuerda en la Colonia.” You can imagine the comments by the boys and girls who support Gibraltar Español that followed.

The article in the Spanish media accompanying the Gibraltar Español piece continued:El líder de la oposición Daniel Feetham ha criticado tanto al Gobierno como al grupo en Pro de la Autodeterminación SDGG por las acusaciones que han realizado en su reciente visita a las Naciones Unidas.

Las acusaciones contra España de conducir una campaña de odio contra los gibraltareños las cataloga de inadecuadas en un momento en que Gibraltar está buscando el diálogo.

“El líder GSD ha dicho que  “el Gobierno debe mantener la cabeza ” y fue crítico con las acusaciones que Fabian Picardo planteó a la Comisión del IV Comité de la ONU.

“Así mismo calificó de “insensibles” las declaraciones hechas por el presidente del SDGG Denis Matthews , cuando sugirió que las acciones de España se podían recoger en una definición de la UE contra el terrorismo.”

Well the rest you know!

The fact that I was 1,000 miles from Gibraltar in Brussels at the time is significant because this was not a parish pump issue but impacted on our standing around the world.

When the latest crisis with Spain started in August the Opposition had two real options. The first was to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Government or the second was to stay silently so as not to rock the boat. They opted for the second but as their sullen attendance at National Day, in stark contrast to Prime Minister David Cameron’s strong message of support” showed they were not happy bunnies.

So for the past months we have had the scenario where our Government, supported by the people of Gibraltar and backed 100 per cent by all major political parties in the UK have faced down Spain. There was no chink in our armour and the threats against our Chief Minister intensified as Madrid’s frustration grew. Then enter Daniel Feetham who did not rock the boat he capsized it.

Let’s move on to last Thursday when our Government issued a statement stating “the Opposition regarding criticism of Mr Feetham on Facebook is” involved in “a feeble attempt to turn the tables after he has put his foot his foot in it. The plain fact is that the Opposition's criticism of the Chief Minister's speech at the United Nations has been a monumental error of judgement.”

Some would judge that was an understatement.

It continues: “Members of the GSD have written on social media saying they are leaving the party as a result of Mr Feetham's leadership and in particular his handling of this matter.”

Their words not mine.

However what was jaw dropping was the Opposition contention the call on “the Government to condemn criticism of Mr Feetham, when he has not even had the decency to formally condemn the poisonous attacks against Gibraltar in general and Mr Picardo in particular, including the constant death threats and abuse against him, that have been ongoing in Spain for over two months.”

I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Feetham’s future will be decided in the near future by the GSD or maybe by the people of Gibraltar. The honourable decision for him would be to resign but then if honour was the criteria he wouldn’t have wrecked the boat in the first place. If it’s the latter then it will be the Chief Minister’s call. He will have to decide what impact the Opposition Leader’s words have had in Spain. If he feels the damage is severe then he may feel it is necessary to call a snap general election and ask the people of Gibraltar to endorse his actions as their elected leader. It will give Feetham the platform to openly voice his vision of his Gibraltar which only the PP seems to share. It will be left to the people will decide whether “el Gobierno debe mantener la cabeza ” – Fabian Picardo.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Last Tuesday in the Brighton Conference Hall waiting for Ed Miliband to give his speech I found myself sitting next to a Labour Councillor from Waltham Forest.
We exchanged the usual greetings and on hearing I was from Gibraltar we chatted about the Rock. He’d seen in the media the reports on our long hot summer so we discussed that. He was very keen to take a holiday here and so we talked about the various options and so on and so forth.

He then caught me by surprise and asked did the Foreign Office still want to give Gibraltar back to Spain? If it did, how would that pan out? Curiously phrased questions as if Gibraltar belonged to the FO which of course it doesn’t nor has it ever.

My first response was that if given the chance the FO would have handed Gibraltar over to the Spanish many years ago. However I explained that the world had changed and it was a previous Labour Government that had put the locks in place to ensure that Gibraltarians self-determined their own future – as is their right under international law.

Now the Foreign Office would have hardly featured in the summer reporting of the latest crisis with Spain. The headlines were dominated by Cameron staunchly defending Gibraltar and promising to stand by us which he has done. Hague, who is the Foreign Secretary, was equally robust with his counterpart Margallo. The Deputy Prime Minister and Lib-Dem leader, Nick Clegg, is totally onside despite having a Spanish wife and the Labour Party has made it known that if they were in power Gibraltar could count on the same strong support as the Coalition is giving. So where did the Foreign Office spring up from?

Of course the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as it is now known is no more than a ministry staffed by civil servants albeit they believe themselves to be elite ones. It is their job to carry out the wishes and policies of the government of the day. Their power comes from their elected representatives and in theory they advise on but do not create policy.

The Foreign Office, had it had the power and the chance years ago, would certainly have sold Gibraltar out to Spain. However I am not convinced that this policy was driven by a dislike for Gibraltarians but rather for the desire for an ordered world. Gibraltar would always be a stumbling block in relations between London and Madrid. If it was given away the red on the international map would hardly have lessened and the British and Spanish Governments could have got on with wider matters of mutual interest.

Of course the days when people or bits of Rock could be traded for the benefit of the past colonial power are long gone but the sentiments may still linger in certain offices in Whitehall especially the Foreign Office. I have read reports of Gibraltarians in the past having being talked of in disparaging terms in the corridors of power and of some of our Governors having been accused of going native. Certainly a number of past Governors are good friends of Gibraltar to this day. However in 2013 it is the UK’s and our own Government that holds sway and relations between elected politicians of all parties are good. It is the Government that rules and not the Foreign Office.

Yet it is intriguing that a councillor from a London Borough should believe that Gibraltar is a chattel of the Foreign Office. What is even more astonishing is that he should believe that if its Mandarins determined our future was with Spain that would be set in stone with Gibraltarians having no say in the matter.

It was a conversation out of a bygone age.