Just two months from now, the UK will vote on its future with the European Union. While 30,000 votes could sway the outcome, a Brexit result could foresee a dramatic heightening of cross-border tension – and if you believe Mr. Margallo, the closure of the frontier itself.
Indeed, Margallo claimed recently in Argentina that the UK and Spain are once again prepared to discuss joint-sovereignty proposals over Gibraltar. One hopes, as the Leader of the Opposition has affirmed, that this man’s assertions are gravely out of touch with reality. However, he is not the only man this week to have had the most unfortunate disadvantage of being empirically, historically and morally wrong.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested, as a reaction to the Panama Papers leak, that Gibraltar (among other nations of similar territorial status) should be governed by direct rule. In other words, Corbyn is of the opinion that dissolving Gibraltar’s democratically elected national parliament achieved by civilians through decades of struggle and directing Gibraltar’s affairs from the House of Commons would be the solution to clamping down on tax avoidance. This is rich on so many levels.
Firstly, it has not yet been shown in the Panama Papers by the ICIJ (the investigative journalists studying the leak) that Gibraltar has been involved. The Rock is not even mentioned as far as local news sources understand. Therefore, it makes no sense to impose direct rule on a nation that is up to date with international law and UK standards regarding its tax regime when the Cayman Islands, for instance, can actually legitimately be called a tax haven.
Secondly, even if Gibraltar did appear in the Panama Papers leak, direct rule would not be the means to the end of greater economic justice. It is not enough that the Rock complies with EU tax law. It must also have a moral obligation to ensure that people do not bend the rules and that money that would be used for vital public services securely get there. But direct rule is not the way. Corbyn may not be aware that our democratic process allows for our people to change the way our government enforces and regulates taxation. Most ethically competent people want an end to the injustice of embezzlement and fraud in all it’s forms but they can be tackled in two more agreeable ways: either get the international community together democratise global tax legislation and make it impossible for the richest to virtually get away with murder, or incentivise places with tax regimes like the Rock’s to vet out any shady exploiters.
Thirdly, Corbyn’s plea for direct rule leaves a vile taste in the mouth for anyone who considers themselves an anti-imperalist or a democratic socialist. He would not only be turning back the clock, but he would be turning against his comrades and supporters who do not want Britain to be acting in an imperialist fashion any longer. We have seen now that, for many in Westminster, their delusions of grandeur remain regardless of their alleged position on the political spectrum. We do not need Westminster telling us to do what we already can, while also sending us back to pre-war colonialism. He should trust the Gibraltarian people. Granted, Corbyn can recommend a course of action to the Government with regards to tax legislation – it may be an arrogant thing to do but it is still far better than direct rule.
The most recent threat of direct rule was in the mid-1990s at the height of drug smuggling in the bay which resulted in rioting and disarray. To make such a call is rare but must be shouted down immediately. It is not the time for this delusion from the Labour leader. Especially when equally deluded remarks are being made by Mr Margallo. Gibraltar could potentially face an existential threat with a Brexit vote and its consequences, as well as with talk of renewed joint-sovereignty proposals. Direct rule would be a crisis for Gibraltar and it would not solve any problems that it might have intended to. Brexit (and the notion of a closed border), joint-sovereignty proposals and direct rule will all be contrary to the wishes of the majority of the Rock and they are all worth fighting to avoid.