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Sir Joe Bossano raises Spain's 'tax treaty' recognition in UN seminar

Spain's recognition of the Gibraltarian as "a distinct nationality" is a welcome development and "an encouraging sign" of what the relationship between Gibraltar and Spain should be, Sir Joe Bossano has told a UN seminar on decolonisation.

Sir Joe's comments to the meeting in Grenada were the first time that the Gibraltar Government had used the tax treaty for Gibraltar and Spain in support of arguments for decolonisation.

He told the seminar that Gibraltar did not accept Spain's claims that the Rock's tax system was harmful to Spanish interests.

But he added that the Gibraltar Government had nonetheless tried to address those concerns "as if they were genuine" and agreed with Spain to exchange information and criteria for tax residence.

"If it means the end of the accusations that somehow we are draining the tax revenues of Spain and harming the economy of the surrounding hinterland, when the opposite is true, then we are happy to reassure them by agreeing these measures," Sir Joe said.

And he added: "The committee should note that the Gibraltarian is identified as a distinct nationality in an international treaty signed by Spain which is an encouraging sign of what the nature of our relationship should be."

Sir Joe sketched out the main elements of the tax treaty as they impacted on individuals, including the fact that Spanish nationals would always be taxed in Spain even if the moved to Gibraltar.

Gibraltar, he added, "…has no wish to have Spanish residents break the tax laws of Spain by not declaring the earnings they may receive from our economic activities in Gibraltar, if that is what the Spanish law requires of them."

"Spain now recognises our tax authorities and our tax laws [as] independent from those of the UK."

"This is evidence that we are not a municipality and that the territorial parliament enjoys the fiscal independence of a state."

Sir Joe noted that Spain insisted the treaty was with the UK and not with Gibraltar, acknowledging that the agreement had been signed by UK and Spanish ministers because none of the 17 non-self-governing territories could sign international treaties.

"I know that this is a sensitive issue for the Kingdom of Spain and I don’t want to do anything to step on their toes or embarrass their distinguished representative here…" Sir Joe said.

"But if they, Spain, need to say it is UK that has done the treaty, well let them continue saying it."

"But you know Mr. Chairman and I know that this is not true."

"Because if it were true it would mean that our fiscal independence in the constitution of Gibraltar over taxation, both direct and indirect, would have been removed from our level of self-government."

Sir Joe said Gibraltar had enjoyed fiscal independence since its first constitution of 1950.

If the Spanish interpretation were correct, he said, it would mean that Gibraltar's level of self-government had regressed to before 1950, "almost to when we were placed on your list in 1946".

"If that were the case clearly I would not be speaking in the tone that I am speaking or making the remarks that I am making," Sir Joe said.

"I would be breathing fire and brimstone at the imposition of colonial rule…"

During a wide-ranging speech, Sir Joe referred to the joint sovereignty proposal presented by Spain at the UN after the Brexit referendum, contrasting it with Spain's longstanding strategy of piling political pressure on Gibraltar.

"In the days of the dictator Franco it used to be called the stick and the carrot policy," he said.

"We might have said yes, if they had been right about us."

"But they’ve always been wrong, we are the Gibraltarians, the people of the colony, and our birth right is not up for sale."

"We cannot be bought, we cannot be intimidated and we will never surrender."

He was critical too of the committee's handling of Gibraltar over the years, including its failure to send a mission to learn about the reality on the ground.

And he reminded delegates that, despite an annual consensus decision that implored talks between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar "in the spirit of" the bilateral Brussels Agreement, bilateralism on this question was "dead and buried" and nothing could be decided against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.

"There is not going to be another bilateral Spain and UK negotiation on the issues of sovereignty or anything else to do with Gibraltar," Sir Joe said.

"There are also the aspirations of our people which are what you would expect of any colonial people, as I have demonstrated repeatedly in these seminars."

"The UN position is that as long as there is one territory left the eradication of colonialism will not be complete."

"We may be the last one but the day will come when we shall take our rightful place in the family of nations, and as I said way back in 1992, when that day comes I trust it will be with the support of Spain as a friendly neighbour."