Counter narrative

By Anthony Lombard

It strikes me the Chief Minister [‘CM’] and the Spanish Foreign Minister may be ‘peas in a pod’, given they are both prone to employing ‘counter narratives’.

Needless to say, such ploys prove hugely detrimental. They disarm us, cause confusion and lull us into a false sense of security. In particular, they interfere with our need to face up to the serious threat we face, during what is akin to the two year ‘phoney war’ period, experienced during WWII.

The Spanish Foreign Minister

The Spanish Foreign Minister has been offering us conciliatory messages. However, all along, he was surreptitiously planning for article 22. Moreover, he deftly ensured the same featured at the very start of the formal Brexit process, at the same time as he continued with his counter pious platitudes, plus advising the UK not to lose its temper.

Such has been the Spanish Foreign Minister’s diplomatic success he also has managed to bring about the re-questioning of our British future, encouraging the likes of Lord Hain, to re-resurrect the Joint Sovereignty proposal and Lord Garel-Jones to add that such Joint Sovereignty was also the intention of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Not to mention, that now even Winston Churchill is alleged to have toyed with returning Gibraltar to Spain, during WWII.

How could the Spaniards have so successfully turned ‘la tortilla’? As HM The Queen memorably enquired, following the 2008 financial banking crisis: ‘did no one see it coming?

CM

As to the CM and his counter narratives, where do I start? How about from when after he first took office and solemnly declared there was no money in the ‘national’ kitty? However, an unparalleled spending followed and continues, to the degree it could result in a crushing ‘national’ debt, which may seriously threaten our chances of survival.

Or, what about the CM’s 2017 New Year [‘NY’] message, when he told us one thing, but in his written submissions to the House of Lords – [see your issue of January 17th last] – he painted a wholly different picture, and yet both, it seems, were inexplicably uttered/issued on the very same day?

The magnitude of the conflict between the CM’s NY message and what he submitted to the House of Lords provides irrefutable proof of my concerns.

For example: in his NY message, the CM spoke of:

[a] record low levels of unemployment;
[b] 2017 would be an exciting year, in the fields of employment;
[c] passenger arrivals at the airport had reached half a million;
[d] new developments were aimed for key workers in the financial and on-line gaming industries;
[e] GDP growth on target for 2019/2020, etc.

However, in his written submissions to the House of Lords, the CM described some of the catastrophic possibilities we might come to face. For example:

[i] when it comes to ‘Brexit’ there are for Gibraltar few opportunities worthy of mention;
[ii] a troublesome border will impact upon 40% of Gibraltar’s GDP;
[iii] 40% of Gibraltar’s entire jobs and work force will be lost, with cross frontier workers accounting for 30% of financial services employees and 60% of on-line gaming employees;
[iv] as to result in corresponding loss to GOG in income tax revenue – (and which I calculate at some £230 million, annually);
[v] plus a 90% loss of tourism visitors.

Why did the CM think it correct to say one thing to us, but a wholly different one to the UK Parliament?

Or, what about when, in your issue of January 18th last, the Government – [presumably the CM] – was reported as, astonishingly, welcoming the objectives set out by the UK Prime Minister, when it involved:

[1] no freedom of movement;
[2] no single market;
[3] no Customs Union.

All of which is the exact opposite of what is so vital to us, and with the CM, inexplicably adding: “we are seeing that there are many positive pathways and routes through the areas of concern, which can arise from ‘Brexit’ and it is clear that Gibraltar is likely to continue to do well in the future ..”. Not to mention: “Gibraltar will therefore be well prepared to face whatever challenges ‘Brexit’ may bring”.

Thereafter, in your issue of the 1st March, we learnt that in the submissions of the Gibraltar Port Authority [GPA] – [presumably the Government/CM] – to the Gibraltar Enquiry, conducted by the EU Select Committee of the House of Commons, the GPA had warned a ‘Brexit’ disruption at the border, could severely affect the shipping activity in the Port of Gibraltar and so the Rock’s maritime sector.

Yet another example of the CM’s ‘counter narrative’ is found in his interview with your Editor of March 14th last, when upon the front page he gave forth with his typical ‘gung ho’ stances, with the ‘caveat’ only appearing on the second page thereof and once all the hubris had been exhausted.

Specifically, in that interview, the CM initially regaled us with:

[1] the Gibraltar Government and the British Government “are totally joined up”;
[2] Britain has made it “explicitly clear” that Gibraltar is part of the UK ‘Brexit’ negotiation;
[3] he was confident the UK would also include the Rock in future trade deals with countries around the globe;
[4] the commitments obtained from the UK Government were “hard fought”;
[5] he was with people in the UK Government, colleagues, who were as concerned as he was about the stability of the Gibraltar economy going forward and who were prepared to listen and understand;
[6] he rejected the suggestion that Gibraltar might be used as a bargaining chip in a bilateral deal between the UK and Spain.

It was only thereafter, when the crushing let down came, with the squeak: “I can’t reassure that the Government of Gibraltar and the Government of the United Kingdom will take the same attitude at one minute to midnight the day the two years are almost up”[!].

Even more recently, we had the CM’s firm assurances, to the effect that the absence of a mention of Gibraltar, in the UK Divorce Letter to the EU, was a deliberate decision, arrived at in conjunction and consultation with the UK – [see his BBC interview of April 2nd]. However, The Sunday Times and The Times reports of both that latter date and April 4th, stated the very opposite. Namely: that Gibraltar lobbied very hard to be specifically mentioned but the request was rejected by the Department for Exiting the EU [DEXEU]. It follows, if those reports are true then there was no pact between Gibraltar and the UK. In fact, quite the opposite was the case.

Precedents

All those chief ministerial contradictory Brexit utterances enjoy precedents. For example, the CM’s firm assurances against Gay Marriage, to then change and promote the same into law.
Secondly, there is the more recent Cannabis debate. Initially, one stance was adopted but a change resulted. It led from one Minister floating the possibility of recreational and medicinal use to the CM assuring us there would be no such use. It all took place in the space of a week, or so. However, in the event, medicinal usage has been introduced; to a degree at least.

A third example is found in the CM’s insistence on describing the £300 million mortgage on the Government Estates as: ‘an investment’. We all well know a mortgage is not defined as an investment, but rather as a ‘security for a debt’ – note ‘debt’.

A fourth example is the CM’s description of that capital as our ‘war chest’, when it will be but ‘a drop in the ocean’. We require £570 million a year, year in and year out, simply to maintain our current economy and services, upon an annual basis. Accordingly, how long will that £300 million last? Six months?

Moreover, do we really believe the EU, or Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of Malta – [aka: ‘Joseph’ as the CM cringingly referred to him, in a recent GBC TV interview, and all as if they were bosom buddies from the nursery(!)] – will stick up for us, when the EU has not even been able to introduce the Air Liberalisation measures, despite the cost and loss it represented to the whole of the EU, and all due to Spanish intransigence, and so as to avoid benefiting Gibraltar?

Not to mention, the constant messages now coming from Europe, to the effect, the UK is departing the EU, but Spain is remaining and so Spain’s position is the one which will be upheld by the EU and not the UK’s, and much less ours.

I can now add a fifth example, hot off the press. Namely, the ‘monumental U-turn on the Victoria Stadium’, as the GSD rightly observed

Extend and pretend

The CM must ensure we realise the magnitude of the potential which faces us. No matter how stark or unpleasant. Accordingly, he must be constant. We cannot be led down the garden path, upon the blinkers of bluster and distraction, fed by school boy debating verbosity, in the expectation of an outcome, which is looking ever more illusory.

‘Sovereignty’ is not ‘Economy’. However, now it may have gone further. Our very Sovereignty may have become an issue.

The CM’s constant counter narratives are simply surreal. They remind me of the former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, observation, when he described the EU proposals for Greece, as a game of “extend and pretend”.

It also brings to mind the joke: ‘What did one ghost say to the other? Do you believe in people?’

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