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Spain ‘misunderstands’ Gibraltar, UK ambassador says

Gibraltar and the UK must continue to work together to challenge the deep misconceptions that still exist in Spain about Gibraltar’s modern reality, Simon Manley, the UK ambassador to Spain, said this week.

Mr Manley was speaking in Gibraltar, where he delivered a speech at a dinner on Wednesday night organised by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce in the Sunborn hotel.

Among the guests at the dinner was Hugh Elliott, who will succeed Mr Manley when he leaves the Madrid embassy this summer after six years in the post.

Also in the audience were dignitaries including Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, GSD Leader Keith Azopardi and independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon. Nick Pyle, the deputy Governor, was standing in for the Governor, who is away form the Rock.

Speaking to the Chronicle ahead of the dinner, Mr Manley reflected on his time in Madrid and his dealings on Gibraltar with the Spanish Government.

His candid observations about the lack of awareness in Spain about Gibraltar will not surprise Gibraltarians.

But coming from the UK’s ambassador to Spain, and spoken in Gibraltar in front of the next senior diplomat lined up for the post, his message will resonate loudly in Madrid.

“I think there's a lot of misunderstanding still in Spain, at a popular level, with the reality of life here in Gibraltar,” Mr Manley told the Chronicle.

“I know, from my all too brief visits here, what a vibrant democracy it is, what an extraordinary multicultural, multi-faith society, what an entrepreneurial economy and how the success of the economy, inventing itself and reinventing itself over the last couple of decades, has contributed, not just to the people of Gibraltar, but actually also to the broader Campo.”

“Gibraltar of course is a hot political issue in Spain, we have to recognise that.”

“The political class in Spain has very deeply held views on Gibraltar and on the sovereignty issue.” “We disagree on that. I think we have to be honest about that disagreement.”

“But I think we have to look - as we've tried to do, not just us but also the Government of Gibraltar over the last couple of years - to identify where we have common interests, common goals, common aspirations, which is surely about security, the prosperity of this broader area, the interests of 9,000 or 10,000 Andalusians who cross the border each day, and the broader economic and human links there are.”

‘KNOW THE TERRITORY’

During his tenure as ambassador, Mr Manley has dealt with a range of Gibraltar-related issues and has consistently stood up for Gibraltarians both in public and private engagements across Spain.

He has steadfastly championed the rights of this community to determine its own future, in statements that have often rankled with officials and commentators in Spain.

Mr Manley took up the post in 2013, against the backdrop of the toxic rhetoric of Spain’s then PP Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel García-Margallo, and the tensions over border queues and artificial reefs.

Even before he had landed in Madrid and collected his credentials from King Juan Carlos, the ambassador, who was previously the Europe Director at the Foreign Office, adopted a different approach to his predecessors, openly visiting the Rock on a fact-finding mission to properly understand Gibraltar.

That trip, he said, gave him the insight he needed to comprehend how this community feels about its place in the world, now and in the future.

Asked for the top Gibraltar tip he had offered his successor, he replied without hesitation: “Know the territory.”

It was vital, Mr Manley added, “…to understand in a very real way what life is like here and to see the reality of this extraordinary place, with its fabulous history and its proud future.”

The ambassador acknowledged that the political landscape in Spain, as in many other European and western countries, was going through “a kind of new political transition”.

He declined to make any predictions as to how the rise of parties such as the far-right Vox might impact on the political discourse in Spain on Gibraltar.

But he said it was now more important than ever to engage in “the patient work of diplomacy”.

“And that is about working with politicians of all stripes in Spain to explain what life's really like here and to try and identify ways in which we can find common ground and work for the interests of people on both sides of the border…” he said.

‘GOOD AGREEMENT’

During the interview, Mr Manley underlined the “genuinely really close” relationship he enjoyed with the Gibraltar Government, and in particular with the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister and the Attorney General.

And he said the Gibraltar protocol and memorandums of understanding negotiated as part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Brexit Withdrawal Agreement were “good for people on both sides of the border”.

“Let's be clear here, they have not affected our sovereignty or control, our jurisdiction,” he said.

“These are memorandums of understanding which are about working together, all three governments, to promote security, prosperity.”

Mr Manley singled out the tax treaty - unlike the other MoUs, this document has not yet been published by the three governments - and said it would provide an instrument with which to challenge Spain’s “groundless” claim that Gibraltar is a tax haven.

“So I think these are important steps but you have to continue that work day in day out - ourselves, the Government of Gibraltar, the British government more generally - working hand in hand to challenge the misconceptions, challenge the stereotypes, explain what the reality of life is here in Gibraltar and keep your eyes on the prize.”

“And the prize is a big one, Brexit or no Brexit, and that is more collaboration, more prosperity, greater security.”

MAIN PHOTO: Library image of Simon Manley during one of his early visits to Gibraltar as the UK ambassador to Spain.