Inauspicious start to 2019

A family custom we fastidiously observed when I was still living at home with my parents and siblings was to listen to the local lunchtime news on Radio Gibraltar. Much as Brexit now worries us, in the late 1970s we were concerned about what the future held for the Rock in the uncertain post-Franco era.

Initial optimism that the death of the Spanish dictator in 1975 would lead to improved relations and a swift reopening of the border soon subsided. The Strasbourg process that began in 1977 resulted in little more than the restoration of telephone links, and it gradually began to dawn on us that newly democratic Spain might seek to exact a sovereignty price for reopening the frontier gate.

It was against this background that Foreign Office minister Sir Ian Gilmour was despatched to Gibraltar in July 1979 to put across directly to the Gibraltarians the views of the recently elected Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. Many drew comfort from his comment that Her Majesty’s Government considered the continuing Spanish restrictions to be “unjustifiable”. But it was another word he used, as reported by GBC in that 1.30pm radio news bulletin, that sat ill with me: the minister said it was “inconceivable” that the frontier should remain closed in an enlarged European Economic Community.

Spain had already applied to join the EEC and the UK had said it would fully support the application, irrespective of the Gibraltar dispute. Therefore, Sir Ian’s apparent linking of European Community membership with the lifting of restrictions did not go down well in Madrid. But what stuck in my mind was that word “inconceivable”. If you really mean “impossible” why not say so? After all, what’s inconceivable today may be quite feasible tomorrow. Just ask Theresa May. The frontier of course did eventually reopen, but not for another five and a half years.

What evoked this memory was the announcement by Jyske Bank that it intends to sell its Gibraltar subsidiary. There are no longer, the bank said, “any crucial synergies between the operations in Denmark and Gibraltar … (nor) the same strategic match between the subsidiary bank and the Group”. But another factor was the risk posed by Brexit. Gibraltar, Jyske’s statement added, “will follow Britain out of the European Union and may be subject to legislation different from the rest of the Jyske Bank Group”.

Yet, shortly before the European Union referendum, the bank was upbeat about the future of its local operation regardless of the outcome of the referendum. In an interview with me in March 2016, CEO Christian Bjørløw said Jyske had diversified over the years and was well placed to survive a Brexit. “I’m not afraid for our operation at all” he asserted, before concluding that the local subsidiary was “as solid as the Rock”. There’s “inconceivable” for you. By the way, the interview is still available on YouTube.

It’s been rather an inauspicious start to the year hasn’t it?

Besides the Jyske Bank blow we’ve seen:

  • Major trade union discontent on the issue of agency workers.
  • Government warnings that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, Gibraltar European health insurance cards will cease to be valid throughout the EU, the use of Gibraltar ID cards for EU travel purposes may no longer be allowed and surcharge-free mobile roaming would no longer be guaranteed.
  • The withdrawal of Sky Television’s channels.
  • Tragically, the discontinuation after existing stocks have run dry of Gibraltar’s very own ‘Brand 5’ lemonade.

Here’s hoping that, as per the title of D:Ream’s smash hit (Labour’s 1997 election campaign song, incidentally): Things Can Only Get Better.

Sky Falls

Memories fade with time, but few of us who lived it will easily forget the impact that the arrival of satellite television had in Gibraltar.

Right up until the early 1980s our viewing options were limited to GBC, a handful of Spanish terrestrial channels and Moroccan TV if you were lucky. Then along came MTV, and suddenly everyone wanted to watch music videos. Unsightly satellite dishes sprouted from rooftops until the entrepreneurial masterminds of today’s communal systems took over and removed many of them. The likes of Sky News and CNN transformed the way we consumed news with their 24-hour rolling coverage. A veritable smorgasbord of specialist channels blossomed catering for pretty much all tastes: “adult” films to cartoons, TV shopping to documentaries, movies to sitcoms.

Arguably the real game changer, though, was Sky Sports.

It introduced me, and I imagine many others, to the delights of test cricket and more arcane sports like rugby league. Boxing, as well as the golf and tennis majors could now be enjoyed on a regular basis.

Most significantly, Sky brought live UK club football for the first time ever into our living rooms. In the past, English footie on the box was restricted to the FA Cup Final and recorded highlights of the previous weekend’s top-flight matches. That changed dramatically when Sky Sports was awarded the exclusive rights to broadcast up to 60 live Premier League matches a year from the 1992/93 season. It seemed too good to be true.

And that’s precisely what my GBC management colleagues and I were told it was by a visiting Sky executive not long after I was appointed news editor in 1996. As GBC sought to adapt to the brave new world of satellite TV one avenue we explored was the possibility of simulcasting the programmes of UK channels such as Sky News during certain hours of the day. That didn’t prosper and we were further warned that Sky would soon pull the plug on the broadcasting of its sports, films and entertainment channels by local operators who were not paying for the full rights to do so.

Given that this conversation took place more than 20 years ago, the only surprise for me about losing Sky’s channels – with those of other providers likely to go the same way – is that it’s taken so long; I guess Gibraltar’s small size made us not worth bothering about. But that was always going to change once an entity seeking to offer a properly licensed service objected to competitors who made hundreds of channels available to their customers for a relative pittance.

I’m as unhappy as the next person at the prospect of seeing my viewing choices drastically reduced, but I’m also realistic enough to acknowledge that as a community we’ve had it too good for too long. My hope now is that a way will be found to enable us to continue to receive the most popular channels, even if it means paying more for them.

Maybe, in this election year, the government will ride to the rescue?

No Laughing Matter

The Metropolitan Police was the unlikely harbinger of Christmas cheer when it made public a selection of the funniest “emergency” calls it received in the year to 30 November.

Among the genuine 999 calls were a man in a stew because it was taking too long for his lunch to be served at a London pub and a woman who complained that her bus driver had been whistling throughout her journey. “What if everybody starts whistling or singing in the bus?” she fretted. Meanwhile, someone rang simply to say Happy New Year, while a prankster claimed that KFC had run out of chicken. He quickly hung up though when they told him they could see from where he was phoning.

The officer in charge of the Force’s call handling wasn’t amused. Chief Superintendent David Jackson pointed out that nuisance calls take away police resources at a time that police numbers and funding are stretched. The Met received more than two million emergency calls in the first eleven months of 2018 of which nearly 22,000 were time-wasting calls.

“Imagine if one of your friends or loved ones was in need of the police as quickly as possible and it turned out we could not help because we were having to deal with one of these hoax calls – I’m sure that you, like us, would be devastated and extremely annoyed”, Mr Jackson sniffed.

It’s a problem that afflicts the Royal Gibraltar Police too. Between October 2017 and March 2018 the RGP’s control room received more than three thousand supposedly urgent calls, but only one in six was deemed to be an emergency requiring an immediate response.

Time-wasting calls included:

  • Complaints about the noise of the fair – not ours: La Línea’s!
  • A resident who expected the boys in blue to remove a baby seagull from their balcony.
  • Ditto, demanding assistance because their boiler had burst.
  • Moans about a cockerel’s persistent crowing.
  • Requests for help because the housing estate’s communal satellite TV system had broken down.

Not to mention people dialling 199 just to ask the time or whether it’s raining.

Like his UK counterparts, Commissioner Ian McGrail will be hoping for far fewer dud calls in 2019.

DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH

A year ago in this column I set out some of my wishes for 2018.

Happily a couple of them came true: government projects cannot now go ahead without the approval of the Development and Planning Commission, a 2011 GSLP/Liberals election manifesto commitment finally honoured following the introduction of the Town Planning Act in August. And the parking situation at the parcel post office has greatly improved with the facility’s move from the North Mole to Europort.

Still no delivery, though, on another 2011 pledge: a sewage treatment plant. A contract for one was “placed” in October 2014 and last January an Advanced Works Contract was awarded. I asked the government about the delay in getting this project off the ground and was told that construction is expected to begin when the Environmental Impact Assessment is completed and contractual negotiations have been finalised.

While these are “currently programmed” during the first quarter of 2019, we could probably do worse than hold our nose, rather than our breath.

Good News for Once

A year and a half ago in this column I criticised the pervasiveness of television betting adverts during live sporting events, especially football matches. What most annoyed me was the way these ads attempt to cajole prospective punters who are, mainly, young men (as a Times columnist put it: “Women are too smart for this game”) into thinking that having a flutter on the result of a match, the goal scorers or things like the number of bookings or corners, is somehow cool or macho. I referred at the time to a study that found that a quarter of men between the ages of 18 and 24 had gambling problems of varying degrees of severity.

Happily, the penny has dropped.

Last month the UK Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) announced a “whistle to whistle” ban on all TV betting commercials during pre-watershed (9pm) live sport, starting five minutes before the event begins and ending five minutes after it finishes. As the IGRG’s press release states, this will “effectively stop betting adverts from being shown in commercial breaks during televised live sport”. It’s expected that the measure will be introduced next summer, before the start of the 2019/2020 football season.

The ban is voluntary, but it’s in response to growing pressure from MPs on the government and betting companies to do more to tackle problem gambling. The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said that: “With over 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, many of them children, the number of adverts during live sports had clearly reached crisis levels”. He sees the decision as recognition that the “proliferation of gambling adverts has got completely out of hand” and says the next step should be to curb the number of gambling advertisements online. According to the UK Gambling Commission one in ten children follow social media accounts run by betting companies, illustrating the extent of the problem.

The industry may also wish to consider whether, in the light of the forthcoming TV ban, it’s acceptable for football clubs to continue to endorse betting companies on their match-day shirts and for gambling adverts to still be shown on stadium publicity hoardings.

As a committed Manchester United fan, this season is proving to be a disappointing one for me. Maybe under a new manager our fortunes will improve. But even if they don’t, watching televised matches should be a more pleasurable experience come August, without the likes of actor Ray Winstone haranguing me to place an “in play” bet on whether a particular player will be sent off or how many throw-ins there’ll be.

NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

 We’d discussed it at home some time before the announcement was made – all hell’s going to break loose this Christmas when angry motorists, their cars chock-full of presents, find they can’t park anywhere thanks to the residential parking scheme. They’re going to have to call an amnesty, I predicted.

Sure enough, up popped the minister for Planning on our TV screens to tell us that all residential and district parking zones were being temporarily suspended over the festive season. Until today in fact: be careful where you park tomorrow.

This, the minister told us, would allow everyone to celebrate with family and friends without having to be concerned about parking. So why not relieve us of those concerns all year round? After all, to paraphrase the UK Dogs Trust’s famous slogan, Family and Friends are for Life, not just for Christmas.

It’s About Time

Isn’t it about time we left our clocks alone all year round instead of putting them forward an hour in March only to put them back again in October? The 21 December was the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. In Gibraltar the sun set at ten past six – I’ve barely finished having tea by then! At least if we were still on Double Summer Time it would be an hour later. It gets worse the further north you go. The UK is an hour behind us anyway, which means that in London, last Friday’s sunset was at 3.53pm: bang on teatime.

Those who know me can confirm that I thoroughly dislike the short days that characterise this time of year. In my childhood and early teens I’d only ever travelled to the UK in the spring or summer, so it was a real culture shock when I arrived as a fresher at university in October 1976 and it was already pitch black in the early afternoon. Luckily I was with two friends who were also starting uni that year and we helped keep each others’ spirits up, otherwise I might well have taken the next flight back home!

Why can’t we stay on summer time permanently?

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, proposed exactly that last September in his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament. He suggested an end to seasonal time changes in all Member States following one last switch to Summer Time on 31 March 2019. Members would have had the option of a final reversion to standard time on the last Sunday of October 2019.

The initiative was postponed after countries including Portugal, Greece and the Netherlands called for the time change to be maintained, or for more evidence that the benefits of abandoning it outweigh the perceived disadvantages. However, ministers still intend to press for the twice-yearly change to be abolished in 2021.

Mr Juncker’s proposal followed an EU-wide consultation. 4.6 million citizens responded, with 84% in favour of not changing the time. This month, a survey by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Studies also found a large majority (62.5%) in favour of abandoning the time change. Two in three respondents wanted summer time to be kept all year round.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) was introduced in Europe during World War One by Germany as a means of reducing the use of artificial lighting to save fuel for the war effort. But nowadays we have energy-hungry appliances like televisions, air conditioning units and computers that are in constant use, day and night. In fact, evidence shows that the total amount of energy saved from DST is negligible: a 2008 US report to Congress concluded that electricity savings were no more than 0.03% of the total national consumption; in Indiana, which introduced DST in 2006, energy use actually went up.

Meanwhile, medical research suggests that changing the time disrupts our body clock. This usually results in nothing more serious than making us a little more tired, but it can have worse consequences. Scientists now think that seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects around 1.6 billion people worldwide, may be brought on by DST. SAD’s symptoms are akin to those of generalised depression, but the condition is triggered by winter’s shorter days and long, dark nights.

I look forward to spring and the advent of an extra hour’s daylight as much as I lament the change back in the autumn. How much better to remain on an even keel the 12 months of the year.

 

Technology Retreats

Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi/drama ‘Her’ is quite memorable. It won the director an Oscar for best original screenplay, and received four other nominations including for best picture. The plot involves the central character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falling in love with his computer’s new, artificially intelligent operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. There are numerous twists and turns that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil the experience if you haven’t yet seen it. I highly recommend that you do.

One of the things I found most interesting about the film is its vision of how technology has evolved. It’s the near future in California, and some of the technologies on view already exist today in a more primitive form. Theodore, our hero, has a personal computer, sure, but it has no keyboard: everything is voice-activated. Lights go on and off automatically as he moves around his home. He plays video games that are console-free and fill the room with larger-than-life holograms.

In 2018 we possess cordless ear buds, but in ‘Her’ everyone wears just one that connects them instantly to the digital world.  There’s no fumbling around for signals orWi-Fi connections. Technology, essentially, has just gotten out of the way.

With no item of hardware is this more apparent than the mobile phone. Theodore’s looks more like a photo frame and is quite chunky compared with today’s ever-slimming smartphones. He rarely needs to hold it and when he does there’s no dazzling array of apps to bewilder him. The phone just does its (stripped down) job quietly and unobtrusively. It’s as if there’s been a backlash. Just as nowadays many of us seek out the pleasure of listening to a good old-fashioned vinyl LP maybe in a few decades our descendants will revert to using their cellphone simply as a telephone. Ok, and to text possibly.

Wait a minute though: did I say decades?

In this respect at least the future according to ‘Her’ is already here!

Light Phone 2

It’s been here for a while in fact. In January 2017, the Light Phone was launched which its inventors said was: “designed to be used as little as possible”. The size of a credit card, all it does is make and receive calls. Nothing else. It was intended as a second phone when you want a break from your regular one. However Light Phone 2, due out next year, will encourage users to ditch their smartphone altogether. It does have a few more features though, like the ability to text and an alarm clock.

There’s clearly a market for this kind of device. If you want a Light Phone, never mind a Light Phone 2, you have to join a waiting list. And there are a growing number of low-tech competitors entering the market.

Could we be experiencing smartphone fatigue? Sales in Europe during the first quarter of this year were down by almost 7% compared with 2017 with customers complaining that manufacturers appear to be innovating for the sake of innovation, introducing unnecessary features while increasing the prices of their handsets. One analyst has predicted that most mobile apps will disappear in the next three to seven years.

In a way it would be nice if ‘Her’s’ version of the future materialises. There are far fewer cars, for instance. But I for one am looking forward to unwrapping my feature-bloated, shiny new iPhone come Christmas Day!

 

 

Are We Heading for a People’s Vote?

Call me a fantasist but I have a sneaking feeling, maybe it’s wishful thinking, that the UK – and with it Gibraltar – may yet avoid crashing out of the European Union. I remember the mood of despondency among my GBC colleagues when the result of the Brexit referendum came through the morning of Friday 24 June 2016 and it started to sink in that despite Gibraltar’s 96% vote to “remain” the UK as a whole had voted, narrowly, to leave. I shared my newsroom friends’ trepidation, but nevertheless a tiny voice in my head said: it can’t happen – surely MPs will come to their senses when they realise what exiting the EU means?

I’m not sure that’s what’s occurred but it’s looking increasingly likely that the House of Commons will reject the withdrawal agreement that prime minister Theresa May brought back with her from Brussels and in so doing, put paid to the Gibraltar Protocol and associated Memoranda of Understanding that have so occupied our minds in recent days.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Northern Ireland’s DUP, on whom the Conservatives rely to govern, have said they’ll vote against as will around a hundred Tories, unless Mrs May and her whips can persuade them otherwise before next Tuesday’s “meaningful vote”. The prime minister is trying to drum up support for her deal with voters hoping they will urge their constituency MP to support it, but the initiative seems to have backfired, with critics describing it as a desperate move. An online poll by The Times and the Sunday Times suggests that three of every four readers would like their MP to reject the Brexit deal.

With the country facing a possible “no deal” scenario, the idea of a second referendum is gaining currency. At the weekend another minister resigned over what some sectors of the British media are taking to call the “Brussels agreement”. (Not, I daresay, because it’s as unpopular as its 1984 namesake was in Gibraltar, but you never know!)

Sam Gyimah, the science and universities minister, who’s tipped as a future Conservative leader, stepped down saying the plan is not in the national interest and that voting for it would mean the UK surrendering its voice, its vote and its veto. Mr Gyimah asserted that the public had no idea what Brexit meant before the referendum and that the only way of legitimising the UK’s departure was to hold a second vote. His resignation brought to seven the number of government ministers who’ve quit since the draft withdrawal agreement was made public in mid November.

Meanwhile Labour appears to be edging closer to adopting a second referendum as policy. Ideally the party would like to force an early general election, but shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says if that fails Labour will seek parliamentary support for a people’s vote instead. In that eventuality he considers voters should be given the choice of staying in the EU. Sir Keir is among a group of shadow cabinet members, who include deputy leader Tom Watson and shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd, that is pressing Jeremy Corbyn to prepare to campaign for a second referendum.

And that’s not all.

The LibDems and the Green Party both want a people’s vote. A cross-party group of 17 influential MPs from constituencies that voted both Leave and Remain in the referendum have signed a letter calling on “all party leaders and parliament to trust the people with the final say so we can face the future united”. They say the people must be given “their rightful seat at the table”. And on Monday two petitions with over a million signatures calling for a second referendum were handed in at 10 Downing Street. Even Theresa May, for whom the mere mention of a second referendum was once taboo, now openly cites it as one of the options, alongside “her” deal and “no” deal.

Locally, the GSD opposition has said it would welcome a fresh referendum and chief minister Fabian Picardo is also beginning to talk about the possibility of having one. On Viewpoint last week he said that if it comes to a second vote, people should hold their noses and vote remain once again even though the institutions of the EU have behaved “abominably” towards Gibraltar.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the outcome would be reversed. For all we know the Brexiteers would win again, but somehow I don’t think so. Nearly three quarters of a million people demanded a Final Say when they marched through London in October and opinion polls consistently indicate that the electorate wants another opportunity. A YouGov poll published last Sunday showed support for staying in the EU at the highest level recorded by the company since the 2016 referendum: 55% compared with 45% for leaving.

Holding a second EU referendum would be controversial and fraught with difficulties. But for Gibraltar, as much as for the UK, it might just be the best way out of the Brexit quagmire.

(First published as an opinion piece in the Gibraltar Chronicle of 5 December, 2018)

 

With the Brexit dust settled, where does Gibraltar stand?

So, now the dust has settled where does Gibraltar stand?

I’m talking about Brexit of course, and the conflicting views as to whether Spain actually gained anything from its eleventh-hour strop that threatened to derail last Sunday’s European summit at which the draft withdrawal agreement and the political declaration for the UK’s future relationship with the European Union were endorsed.

On the eve of the summit, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez grandly announced that he was lifting his so-called veto on the talks taking place because he’d extracted “historic” and “transcendental” concessions that would eventually lead to the resolution of the 300 year old dispute over Gibraltar, no less.

In truth I was a little concerned as I heard him live on television, and there are reasons to be wary. If, against the odds, the House of Commons approves the withdrawal agreement, there’ll be a transition period after which negotiations will enter the “future relationship” phase. At that point Spain would indeed be able to block any trade deal. Not arising out of anything that happened last weekend, but because future EU/UK agreements require unanimous approval. Each member state, not only Spain, would thus have a veto.

Some commentators have been highly critical of what they see as a British climbdown. Writing in The Independent, Sean O’Grady says “the fate of Gibraltar – constitutional, economic and political – is now subject to a foreign power with the force of the EU behind it”. Meanwhile the chairman of Lawyers for Britain, Martin Howe QC, considers that prime minister Theresa May’s “loud and voluble protestations that she will protect Gibraltar from Spanish incursions into its sovereignty are completely worthless, because she is handing to Spain the legal power to insist on its terms for Gibraltar as its price for allowing the UK to escape from the disastrous (Irish) backstop Protocol”.

It was concerning, too, to hear European Commission president Jean- Claude Junker say that the EU was “with Spain”. If that’s true today, how much more so will it be the case after the UK leaves the club and he no longer has to carry out a balancing act between two of its members?

Nevertheless the EU declined to reopen the negotiations, as Pedro Sánchez would have liked, to insert a clause giving Spain the power to veto the application to Gibraltar of any future agreement between the EU and the UK. For all his bluster and bravado, the legally binding withdrawal agreement remained unaltered as did the political declaration.

As chief minister Fabian Picardo pointed out in his televised message on Sunday night, “Spain has had to accept a clarification which does not have the weight of legal value that it sought”. And he dismissed declarations that the Spanish premier said he’d agreed with other member states as “pieces of paper that will have no legal effect”.

My initial worries were also substantially allayed when I saw the reaction of Spain’s opposition parties and much of the press. For the PP, the agreements are “shameful” and “a historic failure”, while deploying a footballing analogy, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said Mr Sánchez had taken his eye off the ball and conceded a last-minute goal.

Most of all, Theresa May has been steadfast and resolute. “Our message to the people of Gibraltar is clear”, she told MPs on Monday. “We will always stand by you. We are proud that Gibraltar is British, and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change”. For now, that’s good enough for me.

Spain Will Always be Spain

So much for Spanish goodwill in the Brexit process.

Barely a month ago the chief minister, Fabian Picardo, told parliament that he welcomed prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s “positive approach” to the discussions that left to one side the question of Gibraltar’s sovereignty. A beleaguered Theresa May even held up the (supposed) progress over Gibraltar as an example of how she was making headway in the Brexit negotiations.

Less than 48 hours ago, however, reality bit.

Ahead of a European Council meeting this coming Sunday that’s supposed to endorse the UK/EU draft Withdrawal Agreement, the Spanish government said it would not back the deal unless it’s clarified that separate discussions over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union will not apply to Gibraltar.

Madrid objects to clause 184 of the draft agreement. This asks the EU and the UK to “use their best endeavours … to take the necessary steps to negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship”. As the draft agreement states in article 3(b) that any reference to the term “United Kingdom” includes Gibraltar, the Spanish government is concerned that Gibraltar will de facto be included in any “future relationship” agreement. This would frustrate Spain’s reported intention to revive its joint sovereignty proposal once the UK has left the EU.

To its credit Downing Street immediately backed the Rock. It emphasised that Gibraltar (as well as the other overseas territories and the Crown dependencies) would not be excluded from negotiations on the future relationship and said they would get a deal “that works for the whole UK family”.

Nevertheless these developments don’t augur well for the Withdrawal Agreement. Not only do they put the UK on a collision course with Spain, they also risk prompting other EU member states, some of which consider the EU has been too lenient with the UK, to look more closely at the agreement’s terms before giving them the green light.

Even if they do, it’s quite possible the UK itself will not.

The proposed deal was savaged by MPs from all sides when the prime minister presented it to parliament and it provoked a rash of resignations including that of Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

It might not even be Theresa May who’s in the hot seat for the “meaningful vote” if and when it gets to the Commons. If 48 or more Conservative MPs submit letters of “no confidence” in her a vote of confidence will be triggered among all Tory MPs. If she wins, she’ll be safe for a year. But if she loses, there’ll be a leadership contest and Mrs May will be ineligible to stand. Heaven only knows what would happen with Brexit in that scenario.

I have numerous misgivings about the Gibraltar Protocol that forms part of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Why, for instance, does it oblige Gibraltar to put in place a tax system aimed at “preventing fraudulent activities”, not just in respect of tobacco, but alcohol and petrol too?

On what basis are we given a deadline (30 June, 2020) for adopting certain international tobacco measures while Spain is allowed to maintain the status quo in relation to Gibraltar’s exclusion from EU civil aviation measures?

And how come there so many clauses that smack of bilateralism through the back door? One example: “Spain and the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar shall establish the forms of cooperation necessary to achieve full transparency in tax matters ”.

The way things are shaping up though it may all be academic. The Withdrawal Agreement and its as yet unpublished Memoranda of Understanding may never see the light of day, and we’ll be back to square one.

The UK would then have to face the prospect of a no deal or put the whole Brexit question back to the people in a second referendum.

Here’s hoping!

Non-Identical Twins

Do you know what cities Gibraltar is twinned with? Kingston, Jamaica is probably fresh in the mind as the twinning ceremony was held just a couple of months ago and attended by survivors from the two thousand strong contingent of Gibraltarians who were evacuated to the Caribbean island during World War II.

Funchal and Ballymena are sister cities of ours for the same reason. Around 2,000 evacuees spent their time away from their homeland in the Madeiran capital, while 5,000 made the journey to Northern Ireland in 1944 after it was decided that London, where they were first sent, was too dangerous.

There’s no such logical explanation, however, for our “temporary” and rather random twinning with Goole. With a population of around 20,000 this Yorkshire town’s main claim to fame is that it’s the UK’s furthest inland port, 45 miles from the North Sea. Other than its smallness and its docks it would appear to have little else in common with Gibraltar. So how did it end up associated with the Rock?

Believe it or not the answer lies in the constitutional conference that eventually spawned the 1969 Constitution. In the climate of anxiety that reigned at the time Labour peer Lord Shepherd, who chaired the conference, suggested twinning Gibraltar with a British city. He saw it as a way of reassuring a nervous population that Britain would stand by them in the face of mounting Spanish hostility. He also floated the possibility of granting the Rock the status of “Royal City”. The idea went down well, with chief minister Sir Joshua Hassan saying it would satisfy the Gibraltarians’ desire for a “special and unique civic status”.

The problem was that neither he nor Lord Shepherd fully understood what they might be getting into. Sir Joshua was reportedly under the impression that what was being offered was a unique favour, oblivious of the fact that there were already some 400 twin-town arrangements in Britain. And Lord Shepherd was soon told that Gibraltar becoming a royal city was “a non-starter”, because it might start a movement among other cities that would be hard to handle. Hopes that London could be chosen as our twin were also dashed as it was considered too big.

Instead, as reported by The Telegraph newspaper, a port city like Plymouth or Portsmouth was suggested. Neither was keen because locals saw twinning arrangements as “little more than an excuse for civic junketings”. As one option after another fell by the wayside, Goole offered itself as a ”twin”. Why you may wonder? Well, the local MP was a certain George Jeger who had personal ties to the Rock and has a block of flats named after him in Glacis Estate. Goole House in the same estate is a further testimony to the bond between the two cities in the 1960s and 70s.

A formal twinning never occurred though.

As The Telegraph said: “Given the attitude of Sir Joshua Hassan and his colleagues to the offer of anything other than the City of London, the Commonwealth Office mandarins decided that discretion was the better part of diplomacy”. To this day Gibraltar remains untwinned with any British city.