Dr Joseph Garcia is Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the current leader of the Gibraltar Liberal Party. He holds a doctorate from the University of Hull on ‘The Political and Constitutional Development of Gibraltar’. 

(1)    Can you outline what it means to be Gibraltarian?

People feel very Gibraltarian, but they feel very British at the same time. This presents us with a paradox. The reality is that Gibraltarians see no contradiction between being British and Gibraltarian. For example, one can be Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, yet identify themselves as British.  We see ourselves within that framework.

People have been living on this rock for more than 300 years. That’s longer than the existence of the United States of America. I think there are four factors which have led to the development of a Gibraltarian identity. Firstly, I shall refer to a process of historical evolution. Britain takes Gibraltar in 1704 and a new population settles here. That population evolves over 300 years and results in the community we have today. Gibraltar may be a small territory but there are certainly parallels with what occurred in the United States. Immigration to the US has contributed to a modern day American identity. The same can be said for Gibraltar.

An additional factor concerns the evacuation of civilians during the Second World War. Most of the civilian population was evacuated. This experience allowed Gibraltarians to recognise that they shared a British, rather than an English identity. English traditions seemed alien to those Gibraltarians who were evacuated to London and elsewhere. Equally, those who remained in Gibraltar realised they had no power over their own destiny; over their own homeland. This process in itself led to calls for self-government, and represents the origins of our modern constitution today.

The third factor is Franco’s campaign in the 1960’s. This campaign led to the closure of the land frontier and the consequent isolation of Gibraltar from mainland Europe. The combination of international attention at the UN, with the local closure of the border served to cement a specifically Gibraltarian identity.

However, I need to consider a final phase which leads me to consider a fourth factor. In the post-Franco era, the British government becomes more ambivalent in its support for Gibraltar. There was a commitment to dismiss discussions on sovereignty under the Lisbon agreement (implicitly) in 1980 and explicitly at Brussels in 1984.

The culmination of such British ambivalence was the Concocted Airport agreement of 1987, when Gibraltarians felt that they were entitled to be included in an EU Air liberalisation package even if they failed to agree on shared control of the Airport. Gibraltarians were given a shock, especially given their optimistic expectations after Franco’s death.

In my opinion, the combination of these four factors creates an identity which Gibraltarians can relate to.  These four factors also result in the cause of self-determination which started to produce real results by the end of the 1990’s.

(2)    How do you think Britain views Gibraltar and its citizens?

I will again provide an answer from a historical perspective. The period of British ambivalence after the death of General Franco culminated in 2002 with a decision of the UK Labour Government. Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Hain embarked on an idea of joint British/Spanish sovereignty. It was our reaction to such suggestions which represented the strength and depth of the national identity which had emerged over the 20th century. We fought a campaign in the British Parliament, in the British Press and with the British public. The end result was a referendum in November 2002, where the Gibraltarian population rejected the concept of shared sovereignty with Spain in any shape or form. The referendum may have been expedient in rejecting that particular possibility, but it failed to correct the low level of confidence in the British government.

Whereas before Gibraltarians had not trusted Spain, now neither Spain nor Britain were trusted. Nevertheless, I think that Britain had learnt it’s. For example, in 2006, Gibraltar gained a new constitution; this meant self-determination for the first time. Even recently, we have seen solid support from the UK government in relation to the problems we are experiencing with Spain. Therefore, I think there has been a change in the position of the UK government. The ambivalence which I referred to earlier has now changed into total support for Gibraltar. There is now a realisation within the British establishment that Gibraltarian consent is required before discussions are even initiated with Spain.

We refer to this setup as a ‘double-lock’. There are two locks: (1) The British government won’t act against our wishes (2) They won’t even enter into a process of discussion without our consent. This is where British policy now rests.

(3)    Who do you think are more supportive of the Gibraltarian right to self-determination: Labour or the Tories?

The contrast between Labour and Conservative policy towards Gibraltar is obvious. The Labour attempt to share sovereignty over Gibraltar with Spain conflicts with the current Conservative refusal to enter into any process of dialogue. However, the ‘double-lock’ mechanism mentioned earlier was granted under Labour and was inherited by the Conservatives. Yet, the support provided by Cameron and the present UK government is unprecedented and has almost been non-existent since the days of General Franco. Having said that, the current campaign against us is also unprecedented.

On a more personal level, having a Prime Minister speak to the Gibraltarian population on National Day with a direct message is very significant. This direct approach from David Cameron is both refreshing and invigorating.

(4)    What are your thoughts on the recent diplomatic conflict with Spain?

The recent conflict has nothing to do with fishing or reefs. It all stems from the decision of the Spanish government to withdraw from the Trilateral Forum. The Forum was created in 2004 and delivered a series of measures in 2006. The current Spanish government came into power at the end of 2011, and it acted as if it wanted to nullify the agreed 2006 terms. There has consequently been no immediate line of communication between Gibraltar and Spain. Spain has turned it’s back on dialogue with Gibraltar. This Spanish approach has created a serious vacuum; this vacuum has resulted in the prolongation of the problems we face today.

What we are faced with now is an extremely supportive British government and a Gibraltarian government which is taking all necessary measures to expose Spanish obstinacy. Indeed, the recent crisis has resulted in an absolute PR disaster for Spain. The fact that the Spanish government has called for politically motivated delays at the border is something which is both clear and transparent to the international press. Every few years, Gibraltar is faced with such tenacity. What is different this time is that the European Commission has decided to send its own representatives to review co-operation of the Spanish authorities at the border crossing.

(5)    How do you think Spanish policy towards Gibraltar will develop within the next decade?

As long as this particular Spanish government remains in office, relations with Gibraltar will remain difficult. The People’s Party (Partido Popular) has traditionally always had a tougher line on Gibraltar. They showcased this attitude in 2002 and are currently doing so in the most recent diplomatic conflict. The Spanish Socialist Party tends to adopt a more humane approach. They were in office in 1985 when the frontier was re-opened. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Trilateral forum was formed with the support of the Socialist Party.

The indication is that whilst these two main Spanish political parties maintain their claim on the sovereignty of Gibraltar, the way in which they pursue this claim is very different. The People’s Party tends to be more aggressive, hostile and abrupt whereas the Spanish socialists appear to be more open to dialogue.