On Monday Panorama carried my interview with Senator José Carracao who is responsible for cross border relations for the governing PSOE party. He urged Gibraltarians not to panic or be unduly concerned because he is adamant the toll (which will be levied on all vehicles leaving the Rock and entering Spain by La Línea town hall) will not be imposed. He urged the “strange behaviour” of La Línea’s mayor Alejandro Sánchez should not damage cross-border friendships. Hopefully not, but major damage has already been done.
This whole sorry episode has already impacted on cross border relations plus those between Gibraltar and Spain. I suspect it hasn’t between London and Madrid because the Foreign Office will take the view that Spain has sorted the problem and it’s behind the scenes diplomacy has worked.
Here on the ground though there is a different tale to tell.
The mayor of La Línea has set himself against the Spanish workers who cross the border each day and we have seen an alliance formed to fight the toll between the UGT – CC.OO and Unite which has further infuriated Sánchez.
There have been campaigns for Gibraltarians to boycott businesses in La Línea.
There has been traffic chaos on both sides of the border caused by Sánchez playing around with the road system and installing signs well before any start date for the toll.
My suspicion is whilst that damage is real enough it is in the hearts and minds of Gibraltarians where we will find the raw truth.
Ever since the Córdoba Accords were signed the GSD government has instilled a feel good factor on Gibraltar’s relations with Spain. It has trumpeted the meetings, the agreements, the co-operation and whilst many Gibraltarians have been frustrated by the continuing queues at the border pre Sánchez – and angered by the Guardia Civil incursions the message has been things can only get better.
Now Gibraltarians have seen the neighbouring mayor use them in his battle with Madrid to bail out his bankrupt town hall – ruined by the mismanagement and corruption of the GIL and PP era. They have seen the ‘bash Gibraltar card’ used shamelessly by Sánchez and the Partido Popular at national and an Andalucía level. They have seen the PP’s candidate for the Andalucía presidency, Javier Arenas, blasting the PSOE government for not getting tough with Gibraltar over the Guardia Civil, the land reclamation and Spain’s jurisdiction over the Rock’s waters. Here’s a leopard who has not changed his spots.
Lyana Armstrong-Emery told me: “After the events that led to the closure of the border and its re-opening twenty eight years ago to pedestrians it has taken these many years to build up the trust and good will between the two sides of the borders. It has taken a lot of hard work and co-operation from politicians, unions, NGO’s, organisations and ordinary folk to achieve this. Mr Sanchez has in a few weeks managed to damage cordial relations between the two towns and has revived distrust and memories of a very troubled past which will be difficult to reverse.”
Last Friday Gibraltar celebrated its National Day and despite the two shows in town Llanitos were united as a people because they again faced Spanish aggression. The old raw wounds were opened up and people saw past Córdoba to the reality – Spain wanted at least joint sovereignty and would not hold back from threatening and abusing the Rock in its own sordid internal political squabbles.
In his National Day message the GSLP leader, Joe Bossano, stated: “we will never, ever permit the Spanish flag over our homeland.” I suspect if you cut him open you would find those words engraved on his heart. Yet under Córdoba it could be argued we have moved on from that rhetoric of yesteryear. I suspect that if it hadn’t been for the harassment of the past year plus the toll fiasco Joe Bossano would have delivered a more forward looking, upbeat message. Yet he spoke from his heart and in so doing struck a chord with the majority of Gibraltarians.
Cross border relations lie battered and bruised whilst Córdoba is at death’s door.
(The above article appeared in Panorama on Thursday September 16).