Election Memories

(This article first appeared in the Gibraltar Chronicle on 7 June 2017)

With the UK general election taking place tomorrow I thought I’d share some of my early memories of covering elections in Gibraltar.

My first, in 1988, was held amid a sense that the end of an era was at hand. Led by Sir Joshua Hassan the AACR had, except for a two-year period, governed continuously since 1945, but that was about to change. The party’s defence of the 1984 Brussels Agreement and the Airport Agreement of 1987 proved to be its death knell. When Sir Joshua quit politics just three months before the election the writing was on the wall. The GSLP swept into office, where it would remain for the next eight years.

Curiously, what has remained most vividly in my thoughts about election night, the 24th March 1988, has nothing to do with the momentousness of the occasion. It’s the argument we had at the John Mackintosh Hall theatre, where GBC’s set was, during the break at the end of our first live link-up. Things hadn’t gone to plan and there was a frank exchange of views, to put it mildly, between news editor Paul Canessa on the one hand and his deputies Clive Golt and me on the other.

It was probably just tension but I remember thinking “If he talks to me like that again, I’m going to throw him off this balcony”! Happily we all got our act together and there were no more flashpoints.

There was nowhere near as much excitement for the 1992 election. The GSLP easily renewed its mandate with 73% of the vote, almost four times as much as the GSD.

Once again it was Clive and I presenting on election night, and I still laugh to myself when I recall him trying to decipher the woefully inadequate graphics that were put up on our screens to indicate how the parties were doing. While they looked OK close-up, from where we were sitting we couldn’t read the figures and Clive was left to valiantly soldier on with commentary to the effect of: “We can see that the red line (the GSLP) is considerably longer than the blue (the GSD).” I kept mum, hoping the camera wasn’t on me to show the nervous grin I could feel creeping over my face!

In between both general elections there was a by-election in 1991 provoked by Peter Montegriffo’s decision to resign from the AACR in order to form the GSD. I chaired the phone-ins with each of the two candidates: Peter Caruana, who came from nowhere to contest and win the seat for the GSD instead of Mr. Montegriffo, and the AACR’s Douglas Henrich.

What if no one calls? I asked.

Don’t worry they will, the editor reassured.

Well they didn’t. Not for Mr. Henrich anyway.

I remember the initial feeling of anxiety as the minutes passed, the director telling me through my earpiece there were no calls yet.

And then a sudden calmness and resolve. Forget it’s a phone-in, a voice inside my head said. This is now a one-to-one extended interview, treat it as such. I did, asking whatever came into my mind, and we got away with it.

The experience of that phone-in taught me the importance of being well prepared, and I made sure I researched as much as I could for every programme I presented over the next 25 years.

I’ll finish with my recollections of the 1996 general election.

As in 1988 there was a feeling that change was in the air and the GSD would go on to overthrow the GSLP, obtaining nearly 10% more votes than Joe Bossano’s party.

Paul Canessa had left GBC in 1993 and had not been replaced when the ’96 election was called. As the most senior members of the editorial team, Clive Golt and I convened a meeting to determine our election coverage. We agreed that Clive would again be the main presenter on election night and would also chair the Leaders Debate on the eve of polling day.

This was on a Friday.

On the Sunday Clive phones to say he needs to speak to me urgently. We meet and he drops the bombshell: he’s decided to stand for election with the GSLP!

The following day I found myself in the surreal situation of covering the GSLP’s news conference to announce their line up and interviewing my erstwhile colleague as an election candidate. It also meant having to hastily rethink all the plans we’d made three days before.

I was asked to do this and enjoyed every minute. I chaired the Leaders Debate myself and introduced various innovations for election night including comedy spots and for the first time an exit poll, that accurately predicted the result.

Three weeks later I was appointed news editor, and was privileged to help organise GBC’s coverage of a further five general elections, two by-elections, three European elections and two referendums. Great fun, but I’m glad someone else will be in the hot seat next time!

Gambling with the future

First things first.

I know that Gibraltar is to a large extent dependent on the gaming industry, and we should be grateful to the many companies in this sector that have chosen to base their operations on the Rock. They’ve created thousands of jobs and facilitated the diversification of our economy that became necessary with the closure of the Naval Dockyard and other Defence cutbacks starting in the 1980s.

But as the football season draws to a close, I have to say that I’m fed up with the plethora of prime time betting commercials on UK television, especially sports channels.

It’s almost impossible to avoid them. Try to do so by making yourself a cup of tea during half time and they’ll still get you, either in the build-up to the game or after the final whistle when you’re waiting for the post-match analysis and interviews.

Don’t just bet on the result either. These days you can have a flutter on just about anything: the number of corners, fouls and yellow and red cards shown, to name a few. What’s more, with the advent of mobile phones and tablets you can now carry on betting right the way through the match – hooray!

My personal opinion, incidentally, is that a true football fan wants to concentrate on enjoying the game itself and not be constantly checking the changing odds. Besides, how do you react when the requisite target has been reached? I suppose you just hope that nothing else happens in the minutes that are left that would deprive you of your winnings.

What most annoys me about these adverts is the way they unashamedly target youngsters, principally men, in an attempt to make them see gambling as fun or cool. Don’t just be a spectator, one of them urges, be a player. Another describes punters as members of a “community.”

Come on guys.

I’m baffled that the UK Advertising Standards Authority can ban commercials it considers are in poor taste because they contain risqué images or colourful language, yet allows ads that promote betting, whose insidious effects may be much more harmful.

A recent Bristol University study found that a quarter of men between the ages of 18 and 24 had gambling problems of varying degrees of severity. The lead researcher said young men are often a vulnerable group, and noted that today’s young adults are the first generation for whom it’s normal to see so much promotion of gambling.

Little wonder that betting is on the increase, with punters ignoring the advice included in the latest batch of adverts, which rather hypocritically states “When the Fun Stops, Stop.”

Powerless

Dare I say it?

Power cuts that so plagued this community down the years have noticeably diminished. When there’s a failure of supply nowadays it’s usually due to planned works and Gibelec, to its credit, provides advance notice through the issuing of a press release, on its website and through social media. This allows residents in affected areas to plan ahead and not be caught on the hop.

That’s the good news.

Regrettably the system isn’t so effective when the blackout has been caused by a fault. This happened recently in various districts including the Upper Town, where I live.

I waited a few minutes in case it was a minor problem and power soon came back. When it didn’t I reached for the telephone directory to see whom to call.

Sure enough, under ‘Failure of Supply’ there were three entries: a ‘24 hour service’ office number, a mobile number and a second mobile in case the first was ‘not available.’

Dutifully I rang the first mobile number. Repeatedly. Engaged every time. Lots of people must be ringing I thought. I’ll try the other mobile. Switched off.

Okay, I’ll try the first mobile again for luck. Still busy.

Ah, there’s the 24-hour number. No reply and eventually an answerphone asking me to leave a message.

After trying the two mobiles again without success I dug deeper into the phone book.

The first number listed is for an Out of Hours service for government housing. To paraphrase Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch: ‘An act of pure optimism to have called the number in the first place.’

The Distribution Engineer?

Fat chance.

Quickly call the two mobiles again in case I catch someone off guard and they actually answer.

Some hope.

I’d all but given up and resigned myself to having a sandwich for lunch when, surprise surprise, someone in the distribution officers’ office picked up.

He wasn’t aware there was a power cut and invited me to call the first mobile number.

‘I have, I said. Constantly.’

‘Busy, eh?’ was the rejoinder.

‘I’ve also been trying the second.’

‘Oh, you won’t get anyone on that till after 3pm.’

To cut a long story short, I eventually managed to get through to someone on the first mobile number who explained there was a fault affecting several districts. The problem hadn’t yet been identified so I would probably have a long wait.

Power eventually came back after nearly three hours, by when I had probably digested my sandwich.

The point I’m making here is that the consumer, who pays enough for his electricity, deserves better.

I understand that there will be accidents and unforeseen problems. Hell I come from the broadcasting industry, which gets its fair share! But the system for dealing with enquiries and complaints has to be better.

Throughout the time of the outage Gibelec provided no information, at least none that I saw. I checked on their website. Nothing.

Ironically, their Twitter and Facebook feeds linked to a press release from the day before warning there would be an interruption to supply the following week, but nothing about the current (excuse the pun) failure.

To be fair they did apologise on social media as power was restored to the various areas, but I would suggest that a more robust mechanism for keeping the public informed as and when an event is unfolding wouldn’t be amiss.

How Not To Work The Media

So, the leader of the opposition considers that the media in Gibraltar are biased towards the government?

Okay those weren’t Daniel Feetham’s precise words, but when the presenter of GBC’s “The Opposition, Your Questions” programme asked him this he didn’t deny it. Mr Feetham said the media does not ask the government the difficult questions it should. The media, together with ‘some’ unions and grateful individuals have apparently formed ‘a ring of steel’ around the government and it’s all going to lead to a one-party state, no less.

Rather fanciful in my view, but my response is that Mr Feetham and the GSD have the power to prevent that dreaded outcome simply by continuing to stand for election.

As to the accusation of bias, well it’s tiresome as well as plain wrong. As a broadcast journalist I heard it from the mouths of politicians of all stripes for over 30 years, and you can’t, by definition, be biased in favour of everyone!

I think a clue to what may really be bothering the opposition leader came later in the aforementioned programme. “Fabian is obviously the consummate media operator” he said, referring to Chief Minister Fabian Picardo. “The master of one-liners” who “works the media very, very well.”

He may reflect that the most effective way to work the media isn’t by impugning their integrity.

 

SPEED CAMERAS REVISITED 

A couple of weeks ago in this column I wrote about the introduction of fixed speed cameras in Gibraltar and what I saw as potential deficiencies in the scheme.

It seems to have struck a chord as I’ve had considerable feedback, mostly agreeing with my observations. One message came from an old school friend who now lives in Australia. He explained how it works over there.

As with our system the vehicle owner receives an infringement notice but unlike here, where no time frame is specified, he must get it within two weeks of the alleged offence having been committed. The owner has a month in which to respond, stating who the driver was.

There are three other significant differences.

  • In Gibraltar you can choose to pay a fixed £100 penalty to avoid letting the matter be decided by the courts. In Australia payment of the penalty is obligatory in addition to any other punishment.
  • Whereas in Gibraltar the penalty is £100 irrespective of how much you were speeding by, in Australia the fine is scaled. If you were over the limit by less than 10 kilometres per hour, for instance, the fine is $180. Exceed it by 40 km/h and it’s $600.
  • Even more importantly, committing a speeding offence incurs demerit points. In the above examples, you get one demerit point for the relatively minor offence but lose your licence for six months for the more serious one. You also get a fine and 3 demerit points for jumping a red light. Accumulate 12 points and you lose your licence.

In the UK the minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine and 3 penalty points added to your licence. Fixed penalties are graduated depending on the severity of the offence, and if you were going at well over the limit a summons is issued: you don’t have the option of paying the fixed penalty. If you build up 12 or more penalty points in three years you could be disqualified from driving.

These measures make sense if the point of the speed cameras is, as the government says, to prevent accidents and save lives. Dangerous drivers must be removed from our roads, and asking them to pay £100 each time they speed isn’t going to achieve that.

Brexit And Biodiversity

Is there no limit to Brexit’s reach?

It turns out that the repercussions of leaving the European Union won’t be felt just by people: it’s bad news also for birds. And lizards. And frogs. At least, for those in the remaining Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies it is.

That was the view taken by delegates at a conference in Alderney last month to discuss the future of the environment in these remnants of Empire, ranging from Bermuda and the Pitcairn Islands to the Falklands and Gibraltar.

The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum coordinated the event, which saw the participation of the environment ministers of most of the territories including ours, Dr. John Cortes. He co-chaired the meeting alongside Alderney’s Chief Executive, Victor Brownlees. The ministers expressed concern about the financial impact Brexit is already having.

John Cortes gives his presentation at the conference

A paper published last year noted that the Overseas Territories’ importance for biodiversity dwarfs that of mainland UK. 94% of the UK’s endemic species are actually found in the territories. Yet their governments claim that money London would in the past have allocated for environmental protection is being diverted away in favour of traditional job creation. Spending on the climate has been slashed by almost a half, and this could have serious consequences for threatened and endangered species in the UK’s outposts.

The Environment Ministers also complain “it can be hard to pin down the Departments and individuals in UK Government who should be consulted”. “Rapid ministerial changes further aggravate the situation”, they add. They say Brexit is not an excuse to put everything on hold and assert that there’s no excuse for stopping environmental protection.

If this weren’t bad enough, Brexit will also result in a loss of EU funding. Many territories have received substantial sums from Europe to help not just with wildlife conservation but infrastructural projects too. This will cease once the UK has left the club. An Alderney post-conference press release plaintively states that EU funding for UK Overseas Territories conservation must be replaced.

Luckily for us Gibraltar isn’t among the places most likely to see its fauna and flora jeopardised by any environmental retrenchment.

Islands like St. Helena and Bermuda have hundreds of species that are found nowhere else and others, the Caymans and Montserrat for instance, are home to endangered species. Gibraltar on the other hand only has two known endemic species, the Gibraltar Campion and a type of snail, and neither is in imminent danger.

Gibraltar Campion (Silene tomentosa)

That doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent. Gibraltar has benefitted enormously from European structural funds down the years: Commonwealth Park, which was part-funded by the EU, is one high-profile example. This source will dry up after Brexit.

And whereas other Overseas Territories know that UK cuts would harm the environment in their parts of the world, we don’t know yet whether and how we on the Rock might be affected.

Let’s hope the Prime Minister keeps her promise to steadfastly support Gibraltar, its people and its economy. And that she’ll be steadfast too in upholding the sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters should Spain seek to justify future incursions on the basis that it’s enforcing EU law.

Up To Speed?

As a victim of a traffic accident some years ago I’m wholly in favour of combatting speeding on our roads.

I therefore welcomed the news that speed cameras installed in some of our ‘hot spots’ are now operational and will be used to identify offending vehicles. Launching the initiative, transport minister Paul Balban revealed that 1,700 drivers were logged breaking speed limits in the space of just one weekend. Recklessness of this sort must be stopped, and if the cameras serve as a deterrent they’re a very worthwhile investment.

There are, however, some issues that I think need clarifying.

The Official Notice announcing the scheme includes the following paragraph:

“All speeding offences captured by (the cameras) will be transmitted on-line real time mode to inform the offices of Gibraltar Car Parks Limited (GCPL). A Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) will then be issued and sent by registered mail to the registered owner of the vehicle. This will notify the owner of the intention to commence legal proceedings for the alleged offence of speeding. The owner must then reply to GCPL within 28 days providing the full name and address of the driver of the vehicle at the date and time of the offence”.

 The only stipulated time limit is the 28 days for the vehicle owner. There’s no similar restriction on the issuing of a Notice of Intended Prosecution.

If many weeks or months elapse before the owner is notified of the alleged offence is it not unreasonable to expect him to remember who was driving the vehicle on a particular day, at a particular time? Better, surely, to specify time frames for both stages of the process.

And how will the authorities prove that an offence was, in fact, committed? What protection does the citizen have from a spurious, or mistaken accusation?

Another misgiving of mine is the one-size-fits-all fine, or “Conditional Offer” as it’s euphemistically termed. Regardless of whether offenders have broken the speed limit by one or one hundred kilometres per hour they can avoid prosecution by paying a £100 fixed penalty. To my mind it’s unfair that a driver who may inadvertently cause his vehicle to exceed the limit by a few kph is penalised just as severely as one who speeds dangerously and deliberately.

Still on the subject of the fixed penalty notice, these will be sent to the driver “as declared by the owner of the offending vehicle”. Maybe there are good reasons against it, but wouldn’t it be more straightforward to make the owner liable in the first instance and not the driver, just as a dog owner is responsible for his pet’s fouling?

Then there’s the question of motorcycles and mopeds, most of which have the number plate at the rear. Will the speed cameras be effective in identifying them, or will their riders be immune from this particular law enforcement measure?

Well, it seems that half of them will be!

The government’s press office told me that “at this point” the system identifies all four-wheeled, but only 50% of two-wheeled vehicles. It didn’t explain which, or by when 100% will be identified, and denied this meant the system discriminates against drivers.

Spare a thought too for postal workers and court staff, who are likely to see their workload increase as a result of this new policy.

My intention in this piece isn’t to shoot down the speed cameras scheme. Like I said at the outset I approve of measures that result in slowing down traffic, thereby making our streets safer. I would simply urge that common sense is deployed in conjunction with the cameras themselves.

Brexit, Canadian-style?

An Economist reader had a novel, if improbable, solution to the UK’s Brexit woes. Britain should simply become the 11th province of Canada. This, a Mr Ted Stroll argues, would allow Britain to have its trade cake and eat it too.

Canada and the EU have a trade agreement and the UK would accede to it as a Canadian province. It would also join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and enjoy liberal trade terms with the United States.

Canada’s provinces have wide powers and by treaty the UK’s could be even broader, he suggests. The Queen would remain head of state, Britain could keep the pound and English, together with French, would be the official language.

Mr Stroll points out that such a move would not be unprecedented. Newfoundland left the UK and joined Canada in 1949. Time to think outside the box, he concludes.

Maybe so. But somehow I don’t think the idea will cut much ice with Theresa May, or whoever is Prime Minister after 8th June. Let’s hope not anyway: If the UK ceased to be a sovereign state what would happen to Gibraltar’s sovereignty?!

Rather more serious food for thought comes from the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the world’s largest international public lending institution.

Brian Unwin notes that if Britain leaves the EU it will cease to be a member and shareholder and will no longer be eligible for EIB finance unless there’s a treaty change, which he considers unlikely, or the bank’s governors agree unanimously to continue financing projects in Britain. This would depend on the outcome of the Brexit talks.

There is therefore, according to Mr Unwin, a serious risk that Britain will be denied a major source of long-term, low-cost investment financing. Over the past eight years the EIB has committed €40 billion to projects in the UK.

The EIB President says that, at a time when Britain will desperately need to retain the confidence of external investors to promote economic growth and employment and to help finance its current-account deficit, the loss of EIB finance could be another unintended but damaging consequence of the British government’s hard Brexit policy.

It would also be bad news for the Rock if we’re looking to a cash-strapped UK for financial assistance post-Brexit.

Ok before we all get too depressed, let me sign off with a few of my favourite Brexit jokes as trawled from the Internet:

  • I guess the EU now has 1GB of free space.
  • What could follow Brexit? Grexit. Departugal. Italeave. Czechout. Oustria. Only Remainia will stay.
  • It’s important to just accept the result and move on. Possibly to another country.
  • A Scotsman, an Englishman and a Gibraltarian walked into a bar. The Englishman wanted to go, so they all had to leave.
  • After the announcement of the referendum result: “Best of three?”

See EU next week.

Art and the Apostrophe

STREET ART

When I first read about the mural that was going to be painted on the façade of Inces Hall I honestly thought it was an April Fool joke that had leaked. The story was published in the Gibraltar Chronicle on 30th March and the street artist responsible, whom I confess I’d never heard of, was Ben Eine.

Nothing ‘benign’ about this, I thought: it must be a prank. I soon realised it wasn’t.

Call me a stick in the mud, but painting one side of Gibraltar’s most august playhouse shocking blue and covering it with large, garish letters that spell out a tired theatrical cliché is not something I appreciate. And I didn’t like it any better after seeing it in situ, which the government said was the best way of understanding this “popular form of public art”.

THE MISSING APOSTROPHE

Of course art by its very nature is subjective. But I don’t see why a painting that incorporates text should be wilfully ungrammatical. The two-word message emblazoned across the side of the theatre is evidently missing an apostrophe. Arguably, it’s also missing an exclamation mark at the end.

But when this is pointed out to the artist, he blithely replies that he doesn’t do punctuation marks. Why ever not? In an age of falling literacy standards why contribute to the decline?

For my part, I would have found the mural just a little more palatable if at least its inscription were in good English.

I’ve highlighted the Inces Hall project because it’s the most prominent of our apostrophe catastrophes. It certainly isn’t the only one, however. They’re rife on temporary road signs and menus in particular.

Why, for instance, does this blackboard outside a much-frequented Main Street establishment get all the plurals correct (we’ll let ‘pastas’ pass) except the one for a traditional Indian dish? There’s also a second error involving a missing apostrophe, but where exactly should it go? Answers on a postcard, please!

Proper names provide another pitfall.

Bishop Caruana Road reminds us of the late and much-loved Roman Catholic Bishop of Gibraltar, Charles Caruana. The road is named after him but he didn’t own it.

 

 

Bishop Rapallo’s Ramp, on the other hand, implies to me at least that the lane behind the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned belonged to the first Gibraltarian Bishop, Edward Rapallo. Naturally, it didn’t.

There are numerous similar examples:

Albert Risso House but Gustavo Bacarisa’s House.

Armstrong Steps but Boschetti’s Steps.

Lady Williams Close but Eliott’s Close.

And, coming full circle, what of Inces Hall itself? It’s spelt like that on the actual building, and is commonly written as “Ince’s”. But unless the theatre was the property of the famous artificer who masterminded the construction of the Great Siege Tunnels, or a namesake, shouldn’t it actually be Ince Hall? We do, after all, have an Ince House! (In Moorish Castle Estate).

THE BRISTOL APOSTROPHISER

By coincidence I learned about the Ben Eine mural at around the same time that I became aware of the existence of the Apostrophiser, a self-styled grammar vigilante from the south west of England, who for the past 13 years has been patrolling the streets of Bristol at night, furtively correcting signage mistakes.

An engineer by profession, he has designed his own “apostrophiser pole” which he uses to affix a sticker over an incorrect apostrophe or insert one where required.

He was the subject of a BBC radio report.

Hear it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08kys4c

And he even merited an editorial in The Times, which praised him for performing a public service in aid of free expression.

“Accurate punctuation”, it concluded, “begets clarity and without clarity there is only confusion.”

I second that!

 

Why Independent candidates don’t get elected

The sad passing recently of Dr. Cecil Isola brought to mind just how difficult it is for anyone who’s not a member of a political party in Gibraltar to obtain a seat in parliament. Dr. Isola stood for election three times as an Independent and in 1980 was just 804 votes short of making it into opposition. But even then there were five other candidates who stood as part of a party line up who got more votes than him and who also failed to get elected.

There are numerous other examples down the years, the most celebrated of which is Dr. Reggie Valarino a quarter of a century ago. Having previously served as both a minister and opposition member with the AACR he stood on his own in 1992 and missed out by an agonising 98 votes. Dr. Valarino actually attracted more than twice the support of future deputy chief ministers Joseph Garcia and Keith Azopardi who that year were on the same ticket with the Gibraltar National Party, forerunner of today’s Liberal Party. But, for all that, Dr. Valarino didn’t make it and no other Independent has come as close since.

The main obstacle is our electoral system.

As anyone who’s voted knows, you can mark up to ten crosses on the ballot paper alongside the names of the candidates you wish to vote for, but may only give each candidate one vote. This means that unless a significant number of people vote for an Independent, and no one else, he or she stands little chance of getting elected. And that’s unlikely to happen because if you have ten votes at your disposal you’re probably going to want to use most or all of them.

Now it may be naïve of me, and there may be good arguments against it, but wouldn’t it be fairer to let people distribute their ten crosses as they see fit? Use up all your votes for a single candidate if that’s what you want to do, or divide them five-and-five, or four, three and three. In my view this would give Independents a better chance of getting elected, and also encourage a parliament of the “best brains”.

Who knows, it could even help change the entrenched “block vote” mentality and partisan nature of our politics. And that, if you’ve witnessed some of the unedifying exchanges between government and opposition, in parliament and outside it, would only be a good thing.

ELECTORAL REFORM?

 Realistically, however, it doesn’t seem that electoral reform of any kind will happen anytime soon.

Although the Commission on Democratic and Political Reform that submitted its report more than four years ago made 39 recommendations it concluded, with the exception of one of its members, that the present electoral system has “served Gibraltar well…and should be retained.”

Meanwhile, the parliamentary select committee that is ostensibly considering the Commission’s recommendations has not yet reported. The intention is for it to meet before the summer.

But with minds nowadays understandably focused on Brexit, changes to our voting system are very much on the back burner.

¿Como No?

Theresa May triggers Article 50 to begin the process of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and the first controversy is over Gibraltar!

Maybe the Prime Minister was asking for trouble when she failed to explicitly mention Gibraltar in her letter to the president of the European Council Donald Tusk, formally notifying him of the UK’s intention to leave the EU.

After all, a fluid Gibraltar-La Linea border post-Brexit is a fundamental concern for the Rock. As indeed it is for the Campo, especially the ten thousand Spanish workers that cross it daily to earn their living here.

But there was no reference to this issue in Mrs May’s letter which, in contrast, did emphasise her government’s wish to avoid a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo understandably sought to play down the omission, pointing out that although the word “Gibraltar” doesn’t appear, the Rock is included in the Article 50 White Paper referenced in the Prime Minister’s letter. It has however been reported that Mr Picardo asked Theresa May to include Gibraltar in her Article 50 letter but she did not.

Some commentators have speculated that the failure to mention the Rock was interpreted in Brussels as a sign that the UK’s resolve to stand up for Gibraltar is not as strong as it might be. Whether this was a factor or not, the European Council’s draft guidelines in response to Mrs May’s letter state:

“After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”.

 Naturally this has set off alarm bells in Gibraltar. But, despite the undoubted difficulties that lie ahead, I’m not overly concerned.

I was comforted by the immediate messages of support from, among others, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, Tory grandees Lord Howard and Lord Tebbit and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer. There are also many UK parliamentarians ready to defend Gibraltar as they have done so often in the past.

Reassuringly, Downing Street issued a press statement at the end of a turbulent weekend disclosing that the Prime Minister called Fabian Picardo and confirmed that the UK remains steadfastly committed to its support for Gibraltar, its people and – significantly – its economy. She also said that the British government remains absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit, and will continue to involve us fully in the process.

These are significant pledges that, ironically, might not have been made had the EU draft guidelines not sought to make Gibraltar a bilateral issue between the UK and Spain.

As we face the challenges of Brexit I’m reminded of something Joe Bossano, then opposition leader, told me at the height of the joint sovereignty crisis. We’ll emerge from this even stronger, he said. And so we did with what we now refer to as the ‘double lock’ on sovereignty. I’m confident that, when Brexit is done and dusted, Gibraltar’s resilience will ensure that we can again look to the future with optimism.