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| 4 minutes read

Has Gibraltar dodged 'a bullet'?

In the wake of Spain's regional and local elections in May this year, Pedro Sanchez called a snap election to be held in the middle of the summer - an all-in gamble for the President - and a high-stakes political move that Gibraltar would lose plenty of sleep on.  You see for the last nigh on two years, Gibraltar has been in negotiations on its own Brexit alongside the UK, locking horns with the EU and Spain over Gibraltar's future relationship with the EU.  We have not yet Got Brexit Done.

These negotiations (which admittedly began way before October 2021) had begun under the Spanish right wing Government of Mariano Rajoy and had then continued under Sanchez.  Whilst no deal had yet been achieved, a deal had (by many accounts) been close, if not complete.  The immovable object of Gibraltar's position on Sovereignty over Gibraltar met the unstoppable force of Spain's irredentist (and hopeless) claim to said Sovereignty over Gibraltar, but there had been hope that the thorniest of issues could be parked in favour of agreeing a pragmatic series of arrangements for the good of people on both sides of the border.  We came close to a deal with the ruling PSOE/Podemos (now defunct) coalition, but never quite got it done.  

Then Sanchez declared a general election for Sunday 23 July (or, in the Spanish way of marking important days, 23J). With all polls pointing to a right wing victory for a coalition of the moderate PP and extreme Vox as a junior coalition partner, Gibraltar steeled itself for what might be coming down the line and reminisced about how good things had been in the grand scheme of things. 

On 23J, there were two surprises - one expected, the other less so.  

The first of these 'surprises' was the speed with which the count was conducted and how quickly the results poured in.  In the land of 'manana' the speed of the count is always remarkable and shows how seriously the electoral process is taken.  The second, however, was that there was no sign of the workable Government majority for the right wing coalition of the PP and Vox. 

'Winning' the election by taking 136 of the 350 seats up for grabs, the PP leader, Alberto Nunez Feijoo claimed the technical 'winner's' right to form Government, even if he had to have known that the prospect of doing so was vanishingly small.  The far right Vox party had a poor showing (33 seats), losing 19 from 2019, a performance which in tandem with Feijoo's PP's failure to secure the 165 seats it was hoping to secure, left them well short of the 176 majority required to rule.

On the other side of the spectrum, things were only vaguely more positive for the incumbent President and his Party, the PSOE. His performance had been marginally better than anticipated (122 versus 120 in 2019) but not good enough to take him, in cahoots with the left wing coalition fronted by Sumar, anywhere near the 176 threshold.  What distinguishes Sanchez from his PP counterpart however is that Sanchez has, in the past, counted on the support of and governed in coalition with the separatist regional parties he now needs to remain at the Moncloa Palace.   

There is a fly in the ointment, however.  The grouping of Junts per Catalunya (7 seats), led by Carles Puigdemont (who remains in exile in Belgium over the failed Catalan Independence Referendum), refuses to vote to make Sanchez President once more - but it is willing to consider abstaining and thereby opening the door to La Moncloa for him - but at a steepening price. 4 seats remain in the offing while the 'exterior' vote is counted too. As at Saturday 29th July, Feijoo’s PP had secured one more seat, thereby complicating the path to the Presidency for Sanchez who would now require 1 positive vote from Puigdemont’s parliamentarians  

What all this could mean for Gibraltar is that, with cautious optimism (and a healthy reality check about how we still fell short of doing a deal with the socialist Government of Spain in the years running up to this last election), we may have dodged a harder, faster, less compromising bullet in the shape of a PP/Vox Government. 

That does not mean there is no bullet to continue to be wary of, but it is a bullet in the shape of a more modern and progressive Government in Spain which has made radical changes in its own internal politics that we hope might influence a softening of the entirely implausible and indefensible claim to Sovereignty over Gibraltar.  That said, it can't be said often enough that no deal was done ahead of these elections.  We came close, but didn't get over the line. 

The price they would have had us pay was one we're not willing to stump up. 

So with cautious optimism, we'll await the conclusion of these negotiations, hope that the separatists that might help Sanchez across the line (the irony is not lost on us) won't demand so high a price that Spain returns to the polls once more and casts us into yet another period of uncertainty before the end of the year.  Like Neo in the Matrix, we have an uncanny ability to dodge bullets, but we'd quite like to be able to take a break from that for while too!

Sánchez — who has said there will be no repeat election — will need to strike a deal with the exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to secure his party’s vote in favour, or at least an abstention, in a parliamentary vote on forming a government. www.thetimes.co.uk/...

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