Gibraltar needs UK help over Brexit, says Chief Minister's daughter

Gibraltar is caught "literally between a rock and a hard place" over its wish to remain British and a member of the EU, says Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the politically ambitious daughter of Sir Joshua Hasaan, the much celebrated first Jewish leader of the Rock




Brexit could prove to be an economic disaster for Gibraltar and the hundreds of Jews who live there, the daughter of the territory’s first Chief Minister has warned.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, whose father was the late Sir Joshua Hassan, told the JC she believed Gibraltar was “literally in between a rock and a hard place” over a wish to remain both a British overseas territory and an overwhelming  desire for access to European Union.

“Economically Brexit is a disaster for Gibraltar,” said Mrs Hassan-Nahoum. “I would not want to be in the Chief Minister’s shoes right now, he’s in a real tight spot.

“Ninety-eight per cent of the people voted to remain in the European Union  - but at the same time Gibraltar is the only part of Britain in mainland Europe.

Referring to the suggestion last month by senior Conservative peer, Lord Howard, that Theresa May would be willing to go to war to protect Gibraltar, Mrs Hassan-Nahoum said: “When Michael Howard, who was a good friend of my fathers, spoke recently I think he was sending an important message to the people of Gibraltar.

“Despite his mention of a possible war, nobody really expects this to happen. But the fact Gibraltar knows that Britain has its back is very significant to the people there.”

But she added that Gibraltar’s relationship with Spain would mean it would need special treatment in the Brexit process.

“A lot of its business is coming through its borders with Spain, 15,000 Spanish people come to work there every day.

"I think ultimately Gibraltar has to within Britain somehow negotiate a special status within Europe.

"There are others who think why doesn't Gibraltar position itself as some sort of Commonwealth destination within Europe."

Sir Joshua, who died in 1997 and was given a state funeral, is widely recognised as one of the key figures in winning self-determination for Gibraltarians, while strengthening relations with Britain and standing firm against Spanish sovereignty claims.

The Jewish Gibraltarian leader, was made Chief Minister for the first of four terms in 1964, is still widely revered today – and is a symbol of the huge influence Jews had had there after first settling 650 years ago.

Today there are still  four synagogues, kosher restaurants and Jewish schools in the main city district which was once home to nearly 2000 Jews in the 1830s.

But the future of Gibraltar, now home to around 700 Jews, is one of the many thorny issues that will have to be sorted in the two-year divorce talks between Britain and the EU which will end in March 2019.

Reflecting on an upbringing in which her father rejected the privilege of a ministerial home to remain in modest family house, Mrs Hassam-Nahoum told the JC:"We were what you could call a pretty typical Sephardic family," she says. 

"My mother and father were mainly kosher, he would go to shul on Shabbat, but both my mother and father were also very open-mined.

"We grew up very Jewish, there was no question of us not knowing who we were.

"My father was a feminist also, there was never the expectation that we would not be career-minded because we were girls.

"My mother, I always say, raised me not as a feminist, but as a female supremacist!

"Very important in my house, more important than a wedding actually, was that my father would see me called me to the bar after I graduated from law school.

"I wanted to be a lawyer, because that is what my father was. 

"So the big thing in my house was that your father should see you called to the bar. It was never that he should see me under the chuppah."

She also understood his desire to live a "modest" lifestyle - despite a career that regularly left him the company of the political heavyweights of his time.

Sir Joshua was already aged 58 when she was born in 1973 from his second marriage to Marcelle Benison.

But then he had already been knighted and addressed the United Nations - skilfully putting forward his pro-British argument for the development of civil society on the Rock.

"I grew up with a sense that I knew my father was going to die early in my life at some point," she says. "But he was a great dad.

"He never really saw me an adult, he died when I was 23, six months after I got called to the bar.

"But ultimately I was sensible,  a man dying at 82 with a glorious political career behind him is not a tragedy.

"It's the way it was meant to be. I was young, so it was my own personal loss. But for him - what better life can you expect?

"He died like a king. He had a young wife around him with my mother - she was 20 years younger caring for him until he died.

"What better way to go, everyone adoring you. It's just a loss to me that I did not see my father as an adult."

Mrs Hassan-Nahoum had moved to London to study law at Kings College as a 19-year-old. At the time there were no universities in Gibraltar.

She lived in Golders Green, Swiss Cottage and at Hillel House in Kings Cross. 

After completing her pupillage, she met her future husband, a dentist who studied at Guys, and in 2001 they both made aliyah.

It was during the horrors of the second intifada, but the couple were convinced Israel was the place to live in freedom as Jew while offering the opportunity to contribute to improving the country.

"Gibraltar's Jewish community is not particularly Zionist, but my father was a Zionist," she says.

"He was very friendly with President Chaim Herzog, he met with Ben Gurion."

Opting not to practice law in Israel, she spent a decade  in senior roles at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, before founding international strategic communications company Message Experts.

After helping her sister run for election in Gibraltar, Mrs Hassan-Hahoum has herself returned to politics in Israel, as a member of Yerushalmim, a local party in Jerusalem campaigning for equal rights and resources for all the inhabitants of the city.

"When the door is opened I always go for it," she says of her new political career

"The leader of my party Rachel Azeria went off to the Knesset and the next thing I'm on the city council with two very heavy portfolios - the preservation of buildings and transport. Huge."

But Gibraltar continues to remain close to her heart – especially in the face of a post-Brexit set up that could leave it, as some experts predict, without access to the EU while maintaining a preferential relationship with Britain.

But one resolution Mrs Hassan-Nahoum will never accept is Spanish sovereignty over the territory who father spent his political life fighting for.

Draft Brexit negotiating guidelines published by the EU in April  said any decisions affecting Gibraltar would be run past Spain.

Last week leaked documents reportedly suggested  Spain would use its veto to crack down on what it described as “unjustified privileges”  including a low-tax status.

"The Spanish have always claimed and continue to claim Gibraltar as their own, but what they refuse to accept, and this in my opinion is my father's biggest achievement, is that the people of Gibraltar enjoy self-determination," she says.

"As they have expressed time and again they wish to remain British. 

"Therefore the behaviour of the Spain is at best anachronistic and at worst plain bullying. 

"As the British government has shown - you stand up to bullies."



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