Gibraltar's apes: a cultural mascot (Shutterstock)
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Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques - “as long as they remain, so will the British”

Gibraltar is home to the last free-range population of monkeys in Europe. Dr Eric Shaw explains their historical and contemporary significance to the Rock 

How monkeys arrived on the Rock is, for the most part, a story lost in time. The Barbary macaque was once widespread throughout Europe before the last Ice Age. However, it was still very unlikely that Gibraltar would become home to the remnants of those European populations. One could speculate that they were brought here by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans - or more plausibly the Moors, who actually occupied the Rock for the longest period of time. But all would be speculation, as there is no documented evidence to support any of these hypotheses.

Historic origins

One of the first written records of macaques in Gibraltar came from the Spanish writer Ignacio Lopez de Ayala in his Historia de Gibraltar of 1782, where he mentions that macaques were being “persecuted”. Many academics do not, however, consider Ayala’s Historia as a sound documented record even though he is greatly quoted.

The macaques’ presence on the Rock gained popularity during the Great Siege of Gibraltar between 1779-1783, during which Spain and France launched an ongoing assault upon British Gibraltar by sea and land. One surprise attack – so the legend goes – was thwarted by the monkeys who were disturbed in the night, and in turn alerted the night watch to the attack. This legend gave rise to the saying that as long as the monkeys remain on the Rock, so will the British. It is also known that General George Eliott, a governor of Gibraltar in the late 1800s, would not suffer apes to be molested or taken.

Modern times

From 1915 to 1991, the monkeys were enlisted on the nominal roll and cared for by the military. This was mainly due to the complaints down the years, mostly by the military themselves, of damages caused by a lack of control over these wayward simians.

An officer in charge of apes was appointed to the care and provision the monkeys at Queens’s Gate, an area of Gibraltar where then much of the macaque population was concentrated. A daily count was to be taken, and this continued till 1991 when the government of Gibraltar took over from the Ministry of Defence. Provisioning continues today as it did with the military, so as to hold the monkeys on the upper reaches of the Rock.

The monkeys, for their part, continue to search out gullible tourists and residents alike in the search for rich pickings (they do like our junk food). Tourists love to feed them throwaway, high-calorie food. These intelligent creatures have adapted to this habit – it may appear that they depend on us but this is not the case. Rather, they use us. If we don’t feed them our wasted food, they will go and forage.

A helping hand

At the Helping Hand Trust, we have a macaque team that help look after the monkeys within our wider conservation work. Part of our job is to provide an easy morning breakfast and hold them on the upper reaches of the Rock. Other members of our team patrol the lower reaches and urban areas to ensure waste food is disposed of within purpose built waste bin enclosures, so as not to attract the animals.

On the upper Rock, the objective is to curtail tourist feeding. It is a difficult task, as many simply can’t resist their pleading look and cheeky approaches (my own mother couldn’t; they always got one more chocolate!).

And what about the recent headlines about “disruptive monkeys” being exported to Scotland? It’s a journalistic spin; a Scottish wildlife park asked if we could let them have a troop of monkeys. We sent them a troop of 30 – one cohesive group that all knew each other.

A cultural mascot

The macaques on Gibraltar are of European significance, they are the only free-ranging primates in Europe, and they are the only macaques outside of Asia.

The significance of this population to Gibraltar is far-reaching, they are our flagship species, and they are iconic to Gibraltar. They are an economy unto themselves, providing inspiration for postcards, mugs, fridge magnets, t-shirts, and a multitude of other untold souvenirs. From the perspective of tourism, they are a key part of an industry that provides employment to a great number of people. Without them, as the legend says, we would not be who we are.   

Dr Eric Shaw is director of the Helping Hand Trust, and supervises the macaques within Gibraltar's Upper Rock Nature Reserve

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar - impact of Brexit

Last week our editor took a general overview of some of the scenarios for Gibraltar if Britain were to leave the Euro. This week, as the atmosphere in the British Conservative Party becomes ever more toxic, Michael Castiel, partner at Hassans lawyers on the Rock, goes into more detail (this piece written before the Iain Duncan Smith resignation and subsequent arguments happened).

However unlikely it may prove, the prospect of Britain's withdrawal from the EU sends shivers through Gibraltar's financial services, gaming and tourism industries, which are at the core of Gibraltar’s economy. For, if Britain leaves the EU, Gibraltar goes too, and, should Brexit occur, it is Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK that as in the past, largely will shape Gibraltar's future.

Gibraltar joined the European Union in 1973 as part of the UK. While rights to freedom of services across borders of EU member states apply between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU, because Gibraltar is not a separate member state (and is in fact part of the UK Member State) those rights do not apply between Gibraltar and the UK. Instead a bilateral agreement, formalised almost two decades ago, gives Gibraltar's financial service companies the equivalent EU passporting rights into the UK. Accordingly and pursuant to such agreement, where EU rights in banking, insurance and other financial services are concerned, the UK treats Gibraltar as if it is a separate member state.

This reliance on the special relationship with the UK is recognised by both the Government and the Opposition in Gibraltar, and when the territory (which in this instance as part of the UK electorate) goes to the polls on 23 June, the vote to remain in the EU is likely to be overwhelming. This may have symbolic significance but realistically seems unlikely to influence the outcome. In actual terms, although some non-EU jurisdictions use Gibraltar and its EU passporting rights as a stepping stone into Europe, almost 80% of Gibraltar’s business dealings are with the UK.

But whether or not Britain maintains the 'special relationship' with Gibraltar, if Brexit becomes a reality, other factors will come into play, with the ever-present Spanish Government’s historic sovereignty claim over Gibraltar topping the list.

Recently Spain's caretaker Foreign Minister Jose Maria Margallo went on record that if the UK voted to leave the EU he would immediately 'raise with the UK the question of Gibraltar.' If this was to come about it could take one or more of several different forms, ranging from a complete closure of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, demanding that Gibraltar passport-holders obtain costly visas to visit or transit Spain, imposing more stringent border controls, or a frontier toll on motorists driving into or out of Gibraltar. The latter idea was in fact floated by the Spanish Government three years ago, but dropped when the EU Commission indicated that any such toll would contravene EU law.

Here, again, imponderables come into play, for much will depend on which political parties will form the next Spanish government. A Spanish government headed by the right wing PP party is likely to take a less accommodating attitude towards Gibraltar (the Foreign Minister having recently indicated that in case of Brexit the Spanish Government may opportunistically push once again for a joint sovereignty deal with the UK over Gibraltar) whereas a left of centre coalition will likely adopt a more pragmatic and cooperative relationship with Gibraltar in the event of EU exit.

The most significant changes to Gibraltar's post-Brexit operation as an international finance centre are likely to be in the sphere of tax, and while Gibraltar has always met its obligations in relation to the relevant EU rules and Directives, it has also been slightly uncomfortable with aspects of the EU's moves towards harmonisation of corporate taxes across member states.

Although it was formed as a free market alliance, since its inception fiscal matters have been at the root of the EU, but Gibraltar's 'special relationship' with Britain has allowed considerable latitude in relation to what taxes it imposes or those it doesn't. However, as is the case with other member states, Gibraltar has increasingly found in recent years its fiscal sovereignty eroded and its latitude on tax matters severely curtailed.

As in Britain, Gibraltar has benefitted from several EU Directives introduced to harmonise and support the freedom of establishment, particularly the Parent-Subsidiary Directive which prohibits withholding taxes on cross-border intra-group interest dividend and royalty payments made within the EU.

As a stepping stone for foreign direct investment, should Brexit come about EU subsidiaries could no longer rely on these Directives to allow tax-free dividend or interest payments to their holding companies based in Gibraltar. In the case of the UK, bilateral double tax treaties will no doubt mitigate the impact of the non-application of any tax related Directives. Gibraltar, however, is not currently a party to any bilateral double tax treaties. Accordingly, Gibraltar would either have to seek from the UK the extension of all or some of the UK’s bilateral tax treaties to Gibraltar (subject of course to the agreement by the relevant counterparties) or it would need to negotiate its own network of bilateral double tax treaties with a whole series of EU and non EU Member States. To say the least, neither of these options would be straightforward to implement at short notice and would need the wholehearted support of the British Government

Whilst Gibraltar’s economy is likely to be adversely affected should Brexit occur, there may be some potential benefits. An EU exit would result in fewer regulations and possibly may provide Gibraltar with greater exposure to emerging economies.

From a tax perspective, an EU exit would probably enable Gibraltar to introduce tax rules and incentives that are contrary to EU tax laws and would provide the Gibraltar Government more freedom to adopt competitive tax regimes that may be considered contrary to EU state aid rules. How possible or effective any such strategy would be is doubtful given the OECD driven anti-tax avoidance climate affecting all reputable jurisdictions whether within or outside the EU.

In this as well as other possible change much will hinge on any post-Brexit relationship with the UK - an issue which the Gibraltar Government addressed recently in a paper sent to Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee. It stressed not only that 'EU membership has been an important factor in the development of Gibraltar’s economy' but also the importance of 'clarity as to the rights the British Government will protect and defend for Gibraltar in the context of its own negotiations.'