Wednesday 22 March 2017

Independent Press Criticism at last?

It has been refreshing to read Stephen Neish’s piece, “A Short-lived Love-in with Scotland”, in today’s Gibraltar Chronicle (22ndMarch 2017) at page 9.  It is uplifting because here we have an independent commentator constructively criticising recent political initiatives of the Governmentthe Chief Minister’s doomed political flirtation with Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland, following Brexit and the Chief Ministers implied dig on GBC’s Direct Democracy of Gibraltar Health Authority professionals.  

Such independent criticism is something that is rarely seen in our press, in recent times.  The tendency overall (and unfortunately)is for political issues to become press release wars between the GSD Opposition and the GSLP Government or vice versa; thus becoming clouded (and so diminished) in the minds of the public by party political overtones

Independent constructive criticism in a free press is a central plank of any democracy.  It sound easy to achieve but in a small nation like Gibraltar, very difficult.  Difficult for many reasons but, in part, because of the directness of attribution of criticism, followed by the potential (real or imagined) for retribution, by those in power or those who may get into power, against the critics themselves or, if these are out of reach, against any personthat may be in reach who is connected with the critic through family ties or other means.  The result is unhealthy silencing, to the detriment of the true functioning of democracy in Gibraltar, of valid criticism that should be in the public domain.  

It is important for the well functioning of democracy in Gibraltar that Stephen Neish should continue making independent and constructive criticisms and be given the medium, hopefully with a continuing column in the Gibraltar Chronicle, through which he can continue doing so.  Imay encourage others to do the same.  Gibraltar’s democratic credentials will be hugely improved by such a development.  Such activity would be encouraged, also, by the type of electoral and parliamentary reforms that I have championed for the best part of 40 years, to no avail so far despite manifesto promises to the contrary.

It is pertinent to note from Mr Neish’s piece, first, that the Chief Minister has essentially adopted the policy following Brexit that was suggested by the GSD Opposition from the start, namely, that Gibraltar should throw in its lot with Westminster.  Secondly that credence is given to the GSD Opposition’s statements about discontent involving professionals at the Gibraltar Health Authority.  This may lead people to think more about who is directing where Gibraltar should go. 


Friday 16 December 2016

Where is our Government on BREXIT; is it All Just Spin?

Recent interventions in the UK Parliament involving the Chief Minister and David Davis, the UK BREXIT Secretary, and the reaction of the Chief Minister to Mr Davis’ interventions on the subject of Gibraltar emphatically show that there is not a sufficient inquisitive and critical press, especially the printed press, in Gibraltar, whose insightful analysis and opinion would benefit democracy greatly.  The ease with which the spin of those in Government in Gibraltar, from time to time, can gloss over reality, occurrences and events without enough press question or investigation, followed by informed criticism is palpable.  Mr Davis, in his evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the EU, cut down and clearly contradicted the assertions, on the same subject, made before the House of Lords EU Committee by the Chief Minister, yet the Chief Minister sails on without facing press criticism from much of the press. 

The day before Mr Davis spoke, the Chief Minister had told the House of Lords Committee that BREXIT would be a multi-faceted deal with differentiated outcomes for different sectors of industry and parts of the UK, including Gibraltar, emphasising the differential by making reference to the possibility of a micro-sate.  In clear contradiction of that assertion, Mr Davis has told the House of Commons Committee that he did not envisage a special arrangement for Gibraltar as part of the UK’s deal to leave the EU but, in a bid to leave the door very slightly ajar, added that he did not rule it out completely.  Mr Davis stated, very clearly and forcefully, that “he would be loathe” to go down the route of a tailor-made BREXIT deal for Gibraltar to suit its own particular circumstances.  This is an assertion in the strongest terms.  The words used by Mr Davis are not mealy mouthed.

Yet the Chief Minister is allowed, without sufficient press analysis or criticism, to hang his hat on asides and to spin this by pretending that really the UK Minister expressed opinions “entirely in keeping” with the views that the Government has put to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Exiting the EU.  Of course, these views are not public and so are unknown but to a few.  However, the ability for the press to analyse and criticise remains, based on what is public.  What is public shows a clear put down by Mr Davis of the Chief Minister’s primary assertion that there could be a differentiated outcome for Gibraltar in the BREXIT negotiation.

Our Chief Minister then grabs onto the best distraction issue that exists in Gibraltar: that Mr Davis said also that the primary issue for Gibraltar is British sovereignty and the argument with Spain, adding that the UK had a firm position to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and that this is written in his blood.  Well, it does not need to be written into the blood of the Minister.  It is written into our Constitution.  There is no doubt on the issue of our Britishness (sic) or the UK’s obligations in that regard.  The repeated reassurances by British Ministers is what may bring it into doubt but let us understand clearly that this is not doubted in Gibraltar, it is written into our Constitution.

What is clear is that our British sovereignty, precisely because it is engraved into our Constitution, is not what is in question in the BREXIT negotiations.  Consequently, it is not a primary issue in the BREXIT negotiation, as Mr Davis said also.  It is a consideration only because the Spanish Government is bringing it into the equation opportunistically (as usual).  What are primary issues for Gibraltar are those that the Chief Minister referred to the House of Lords Committee: achieving fluidity at the frontier and access to the EU Single market for services but, again as the Chief Minister stated clearly, undermining our British sovereignty is not a price that Gibraltar is willing to pay in return for obtaining the best outcome on these two issue.

It is of the utmost importance that, despite Mr Davis' comments, negotiations concentrate on the two issues that are of primary importance to Gibraltar, without falling into the trap of equating those with the issue of sovereignty.  It may seem that one party, Spain, may do its utmost to bring the issue of sovereignty into play but the clarity by which these are separate issues must be emphasised throughout.  After all, the UK’s desire to remain in the Single Market, whilst opting out of freedom of movement is another conundrum that seemingly does not have a solution right now. 

Only time will tell but in a piece published in this blog on the 29th May 2016, just before the referendum, a question was posed:

 “... [Picardo as Chief Minister] and his Government will have to steer Gibraltar through the extremely difficult times that may follow a BREXIT vote.  The silence of Picardo and his Government on what its policies in this eventuality are is palpable.  Should the GSLP Government not be telling the people of Gibraltar what the Government’s intentions are in this eventuality? This is especially important in light of the enormous direct and indirect public borrowings that Picardo’s Government have incurred

Well the time has come and yet we have no answer beyond that BREXIT is miraculously no longer an existential problem to our economy, as the Chief Minister said it would be prior to the referendum, and  the two primary issues identified above, but what if the situation with Spain or what Mr Davis has said do not allow for these two to be achieved?

Wednesday 14 December 2016

BREXIT and Border Controls

The answer to the questionwill BREXIT result in a change in border controls at our border, is, it depends.  

The answer depends, initially, on whether there is a “hard BREXIT” or a “soft BREXIT”, in terms of whether or not the UK (with the inclusion of Gibraltar) agrees to freedom of movement, meaning the right (with few exceptions) of EU citizens to live and work in any other EU country (that would include the UK and Gibraltar after BREXIT).  

Agreement to freedom of movement is inextricably linked, currently, to the subject of whether or not the UK (and Gibraltar,for services, as is the present arrangement, assuming that no other specific Treaty provisions impact on Gibraltar’s position) would remain in the EU Single Market.  This membership could beeither through EFTA membership (consisting now of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) or by specific agreement, as is the case with Switzerland.  

The conundrum is that, seemingly, as the debate stand, the UK would wish to remain in the EU Single Market but to opt out of freedom of movement obligations.  This arrangement is not acceptable presently to the remaining EU membersso there is a likelihood that freedom of movement may not continue after BREXIT.

So what different treatment would apply at the border with Spain,on the basis that freedom of movement would cease to exist?  The answer is simple: applying current EU rules, there could be greater checks at our border that could cause delay, absent goodwill from Spain or special agreements.  

The principle that exists currently, as a matter of EU law, whichresults in a smother and faster cross-border flow would cease to apply.  This principle is that minimum checks, simply to establish identity by a rapid and straightforward check of passports or identity cards, are applied to EU citizens who enjoy freedom of movement.  It is this principle that the EU inspectors criticised Spain for not applying at our border when long queues were created by action taken by Spain in recent years.  It was this EU intervention that led to a return to a smooth fast flowing border.

So, absent goodwill from Spain or special agreement for our border, what EU rules would apply?  

A non-EU national, for stays not exceeding 90 days in any 180-day period, needs to possess a passport with a valid visa (if a visa is required, there is much press speculation on the question of a need for a visa that remains unresolved), justify the purpose of the intended stay, show sufficient means of subsistence, not have an alert issued in the Schengen information system that would lead to refusal of entry and not be considered a threat to public policy, internal security, public heath or international relations.  Entry may be refused if any of these conditions are not met, absent special reasons like humanitarian ones. Passports will be systematically stamped on entry and exit. 

If all this criteria is strictly applied at our border, one can see easily (not least from past actual experience) that the required checks will cause delays on crossing; delays that would impact on our economy and that of the Campo area.  One casualty could be those persons, be they Spanish nationals or other nationals, who cross the border daily to work in Gibraltar.  The other casualty would be the ability of British nationals (including Gibraltarians) to live in Spain. 

Regulation EC1931/2006 allows for special passes to be given, in certain circumstances, to cross-border workers travelling from a non-EU country to work in an EU member state.  It does not deal with the reverse situation that would be the applicable one at our border.  Accordingly, if no special overall arrangement is reached to govern our border crossing, a bilateral arrangement would be the available solution to facilitate border crossings by cross-border workers from Spain into Gibraltar. The ability of British nationals to reside in Spain would need, also, to be dealt with by agreement flowing from the negotiations.

Only time and negotiations will clarify these issues that impact on our border and those Gibraltarians who live in Spain but an understanding of the current position is needed to inform any discussion during the BREXIT process. Gibraltar did have different arrangements from the UK at the time of the original accession into the EU, when Spain was not an EU member, which indicates the ability for differences to be agreed that are applicable to Gibraltar and not the UK.  Today, however, Spain is an EU member; the extent that Spain will be involved in issues that engage Gibraltar and the extent of the influence that it will yield on this front is still to be seen. Let us hope that realism and pragmatism will prevail for the benefit of the whole area, importantly the hinterland, which can ill afford an artificial and avoidable economic downturn arising out of purely political motives.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) Vision, Values and Aims.

Individuality within a Caring Society

Each of us lives as individuals within society, as such, we are interdependent. For that to work, we must acceptpersonal responsibilitfor our well being and for making a future for ourselves, within a fair, caring and ordered society.   Within that society the GSD believes those who cant - and those who can, who fall on hard-times – must be helped.  

We stand for a fair, ordered and caring society where individual responsibility matters.

The GSD will work to improve our society for the benefit of all and not just the few, by standing for individual rights, social justice, strong values and decency. We believe these rights and values flow from a sense of responsibility, a strong community, equal opportunity and equal rights.  Unjust elements within our society must be tackled

This vision hinges on clear policiesachievable within our financial means in a British Gibraltar.    

We would:

Recognise the right of individuals to live within the law, as freely and unfettered by government intervention as possible, while protecting the common good;


Enhance democratic, open and accountable government and administration with consultation, reforms and measured decentralisation;


Manage public funds, all funds used for public endsand public spending prudently, openly and transparently;


Stimulate economic growth by both encouraging private investment and by supporting workers’ movements and the trade unions;


Only invest public moneys in commercial enterprises that are essential, and not in a way that discourages, interferes or competes with private enterprise; 


Improve public services in all fields, including health care, elderly care, child care, and housing; 


Assist the less privileged through social services and, where right and possible, with reasonable financial help, without encouraging a culture of reliance;


Develop education, training and skills, and increase opportunities for economic diversification; 


Support good sports, leisure, arts and culturefacilities and an enhanced historical awareness as an expression of our unique national identity;


Place the environment at the core of our thinking;


Advance self-determination;


Deal with discrimination and prejudice, for any reason inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, race or skin colour, disability or religion, by promoting diversity and taking personal responsibility for our place in society; and


Encourage a stable, peaceful and law abiding communityin part, by raising awareness of civic responsibility and addressing the growing culture of entitlement.