John Clear July 30, 2020

Ever since Sir Joshua became Gibraltar’s first Chief Minister, he and each and every one of the others who followed him, have had a natural disposition in which they excelled.

The impetus, and determination of the first GSLP Government and the transformation that laid the foundations of the modern Gibraltar is almost impossible to equal, especially at a time when we were still expected to await the F&CO’s acquiescence cap in hand. Joe Bossano and his Government of shop stewards then broke down all the established parameters and they impressed. Their achievements were myriad. They were eventually tripped up by those who could not accept our unqualified and stupendous success.

The right in Gibraltar were desperate to get rid of a left leaning GSLP which they saw as an unnatural Government. The GSD and the AACR met, both openly and surreptitiously, to find ways of bringing about a right of centre Government.

The opportunity was offered them on a plate by both the F&CO and the Palacio de Santa Cruz, who believed that with a GSD Government it would be easier to push through their agenda.

That, however, may have been true prior to 1996. However, after that date, Peter Caruana’s political reality check changed any prior views he may have had, evinced by the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum of 2002. That laid down the dictum that nothing can be imposed on us or decided above our heads. Caruana understood this long before 2002 and this understanding shielded his Government until 2011.

When Fabian Picardo became our Chief Minister, after a failed attempt to derail his chances by a wary Peter Caruana fully justified in his apprehension of the newcomer, he brought with him two very natural flairs. The first was a disposition to learn both from the mistakes and successes of his predecessors and put this knowledge to good use. The second one is a diplomatic flair equal to none.

At the end of 2011, our relations with the F&CO and with HE were not precisely the best. I believe that Sir Peter’s natural haughty manner and hubris had betrayed him more than once.

Fabian, therefore, had a lot of work to do in the diplomatic sphere. He first convinced His Excellency that relations with the Government of Gibraltar need not be what they had been up to then.

All the nonsense of who preceded who or who came first or second lost any sense. Eventually we witnessed a much happier HE at the end of his tenure.

Relations with the UK also had to be improved, both at the level of F&CO and at a political level.

We saw David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister addressing the crowds in Casemates on a giant screen, on National Day, for the first time ever.

Fabian’s relation with all the UK’s Prime Ministers have been excellent. David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have all got along extremely well with him and he may be the Chief Minster who has been in No 10 Downing Street more times than any other Gibraltar Chief Minister.

We now enjoy the best relations ever with both the UK political Government and the F&CO.

In fact, I have to say that our good relations with the Mother County is unprecedented.

This has been an incredible achievement. But the UK is only one of the pillars that Gibraltar needed to tackle - although the most important one. Spain is the other pillar. Not as important as the UK but with a huge nuisance value. This nuisance value has to be converted into an asset for Gibraltar and the hinterland. The potential is huge and we can say that, judging by what has come from the Spanish Lady Minister for Foreign Affairs, the present Spanish Government has made the same assessment as Fabian Picardo and they are on side. An enormous achievement where there are no losers. It is all a win-win situation for all.

Like he has done in the UK, the Chief Minister has managed to establish a fluid relationship with the Government of Pedro Sanchez as socialists would anywhere else. But, perhaps with the exception of Landaluce, who is a very right-wing jerk, he has also established a fluid relationship with the all the Mayors of the “ManComunidad de Municipios” especially with the mayor of our nearest town, La Linea.

If nothing else does, this has demonstrated our Chief Minister’s disposition and diplomatic flair. He has forgotten no one.

The very public meeting held with Arantxa must have had the blessings of the President of the Government of Spain, otherwise it would have never materialised.

Meanwhile, as was to be expected, the right in Spain has gone berserk.

Big mouth Margallo had engendered great expectation for the recovery of the Rock when the result of Brexit was announced. It was ‘a unique opportunity’ he said. Even Rajoy had had enough of his bluster and removed him. Clearly Jose knew little of what makes Gibraltar tick, and never will.

The right in Spain have all shown their wounded pride at the meeting but I have concentrated on Margallo because of the relevance he once had for Gibraltar.

It was only during the preparations for the Great Siege of Gibraltar of 1779-1783 that the right in Spain had had such expectations of recovering the Rock, albeit a “manu militari.”

The civilised world has moved on, but not the right. They still insist in winning battles they lost centuries ago.

José Manuel García-Margallo, who was head of Spanish diplomacy for five years, between 2011 and 2016, is critical of the current foreign policy of the Government in relation to Gibraltar and the meeting held between Minister Arancha González Laya and the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo. The former Foreign Minister warns that they "break with a position of more than 300 years." García-Margallo is writing a book about Gibraltar that will be published in September.

In an interview, immediately after the meeting between Arantxa and Fabian, Margallo was asked for the implications of the meeting.

He replied, “It is one more step, albeit a very important step in a series of gratuitous concessions the Government has been making to Gibraltar for some time now. Firstly, the government does not manage to get a mention of the Rock in the political declaration of the UK’s exit agreement from the EU. And now Spain is ready to beatify some Cayman Islands on the southern border that will erode the community coffers. Finally, the government converts Picardo, who only has local powers, and is therefore only a mayor, as an interlocutor on an equal footing with a Minister of the Kingdom of Spain.”

Q - “Does this gesture mean breaking the policy on Gibraltar followed until now?”

M - “It makes him an international subject and gives ministerial rank to someone who is still a mayor. It means returning to Zapatero's politics. Moratinos held a tripartite forum in which he sat Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar on an equal footing. And Trinidad Jiménez froze the process. Moratinos also removed all restrictions on air traffic to an airport that was built on an isthmus that was never ceded to the United Kingdom. Finally, he gave them the phone lines that have made Gibraltar the mecca of online gaming. This policy of appeasement was continued by Josep Borrell and now González Laya ends it with this nonsense. It is a step that will end with the expulsion (sic) of Gibraltar from the list of tax havens.”

Q - “And what does that mean in terms of sovereignty?”

M - “It supposes a renunciation to the Spanish co-sovereignty taking advantage of the Brexit, that we then proposed. The PP government proposed that another member state take over Gibraltar's foreign policy, so that it could continue in the EU after leaving the United Kingdom. That would mean dual British and Spanish nationality for the citizens of Gibraltar and the creation of a special economic zone that included the Rock, the Campo de Gibraltar and Ceuta. Sánchez accepts and assumes that Gibraltar is a colony and a tax haven for ever and ever.”

Q - “Why do you think these transfers take place now?”

M - “This happens because the Government does not have a clear idea of ​​Spain. The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation and on its territorial integrity. Zapatero already had two statements to be carved in stone. In the first place, he said that in politics there are no ideologies. And, second, that the concept of nation is debated and debatable. Sánchez follows the same path and drives with low headlights”.

Q - “Is the meeting a victory for Fabian Picardo?”

M - “It is his long-standing golden dream: to gain recognition as an interlocutor. At least Moratinos was speaking to the representative of Gibraltar in the presence of the British Minister. We have now made Picardo an active international subject, something that has not been done since 1713.”

Q - “Did he try to meet with you while you were Minister of Foreign Affairs?”

M - “Picardo says that at Thatcher's funeral I moved away so as not to greet him. It is not true, what happens is that I did not see him. I would have greeted him. But what I would never have done is meet him. Sovereignty issues are discussed by the majors: the United Kingdom and Spain.”

Q - “Foreign Affairs alleges that Spain's position on Gibraltar has not changed and that there has been no discussion of sovereignty with Picardo.”

M - “It is one thing to say it, and another to do it. Spain had the golden opportunity to raise the co-sovereignty issue after Brexit, for Gibraltar to continue in the European club.”

It appears that Borrell already met Picardo in 2018, but no one has known of that meeting so far.

Margallo and the right in Spain still believe the fairy tale that the conquistadors did nothing more sinister in the Americas than evangelise the natives.