Damon Bossino strikes an unorthodox note within the GSD, which he aspires to lead one day. He is a devout catholic and publicly opposes abortion, surrogacy and same sex marriage in Parliament. He is happily married to a Spanish lawyer and is a proponent for an area of shared prosperity but warns that the presence of Spanish police officers at the Gibraltar port and airport would mean reopening wounds, which he says have not yet healed.
Damon Bossino is a veteran of Gibraltar politics despite his age (49). In 1996, at the young age of 24, Bossino’s name appeared on a list for the Gibraltar National Party (GNP) alongside his now political rivals Fabian Picardo and Dr. Joseph Garcia, who currently govern Gibraltar in coalition.
After 11 years away, he returned to politics in 2011 at the request of Peter Caruana and says that “we almost won. We missed the mark by only 200 votes”, he explained to ReachExtra.
Bossino is a barrister married with three children to Rosa Arrimadas, a Spanish lawyer who is the second cousin of Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Ciudadanos.
He is known as a free element within his party because his political views are conservative, and he holds firm Catholic convictions – which he has no qualms about expressing in Parliament. He was the only person in his party to vote against surrogacy in Gibraltar; he also defended the right of those working at the Civil Registry to conscientiously object to marrying spouses of the same sex. He has voted against abortion.
“I am more conservative than my colleagues and it shows whenever I vote. Conservatism needs a voice in Gibraltarian politics, and I’m not talking about the far right, I don’t identify with that, but with conservative ideology.”
“Due to my Catholic convictions, I place myself within the centre-right on issues like abortion, surrogacy and gay marriage, and I am open about this. I vote with my conscience and that should be respected. All my colleagues, in government and within opposition, voted in favour.”
“I wonder if any of them voted reluctantly. I don’t hide my beliefs, and I think that this is a breath of fresh air in Parliament. Not everyone needs to think the same way”, he said.
Regarding his relationship with his former GNP party member, Fabian Picardo, who he now frequently clashes with in Parliament, he says that he would like to think they are on good terms.
Bossino holds important portfolios in opposition, such as Tourism, Financial Services, Urban Planning or the Port: “I would like to think that relations are still on good. We had a row in the Chamber a few weeks ago which descended to a level that I think neither one of us enjoyed.”
“Emotions can get the better of you. We do clash, but I think that even if we have different views, there is still mutual respect. He is quite human. When I became unwell with Covid-19 during Christmas, he was concerned for me and I appreciate that.”
It is matters of public finance which the GSD find most contention with the Government of Gibraltar, which is made up of the GSLP and Liberals.
“For me, the worst thing about government management has been public finance. We have maintained our position from the first instance because we could see that debt was building. There has been wastage of public money”.
“Now that we’ve gone through the pandemic, there is going to be a big hole to fill, although, on the positive side, we’ve received direct help from the British Government of half a billion pounds. This has been an example of good management, because the pandemic has been an awfully hard blow to the local economy and public finances as well as a blow to Gibraltar – as it has been worldwide”, he said.
He said that solving this issue is in his list of priorities, something which he assures his party can achieve.
“As we have always been able to do, we will straighten out the current situation”.
But how big is this hole?
“We do not know; we don’t have all the data. The government needs to be more transparent on this. I wish we weren’t correct on this because it would be better for Gibraltar, but I don’t think so”, he replied.
Damon Bossino also openly acknowledged that he will be running for leader of the GSD:
“Although I do support our leader Keith Azopardi, I have always been transparent and honest. I was asked if I had ambitions to become the Chief Minister, and I said yes. You have to have ambition, but not at any cost… so why not admit that I aim to become Chief Minister?”.
We wanted to delve deeper into this because, during the last election, Fabian Picardo had announced that he would not run for re-election. Would that benefit him as a candidate and the GSD? When we asked, Bossino replied:
“I question that, I don’t believe it. I do not see any obvious successor within his party, nor any candidate who wants to assume his position. That is my opinion, with all due respect to them”.
He does not see the government as a coalition, but as a single party:
“It would be interesting to see what background the Liberal Party has; its structure, members… I think it is an arrangement to give prominence to its leader Joseph Garcia. Also, this gives them the opportunity to continue having links and relations with the Liberal International. The coalition government is, in my opinion, a fiction”, he replied.
He did however recognise some successes in government:
“They have done good things. The first thing that comes to mind is their management of the pandemic. Its crystal clear”.
“We have the advantage of being a small country, but this has been done well. The organisation has been very good, and we have received unconditional support from the United Kingdom with vaccines. In addition, a good humanitarian gesture has been demonstrated in the vaccination drive for registered cross-frontier workers. It has been highly successful”.
Bossino considers that Brexit has been a step backwards for Gibraltar and admitted that he was able to breathe a sigh of relief when the in principle New Year’s Eve agreement was announced:
“I was very worried. We need to have understanding on both sides of the frontier. I know this because of my personal situation”.
“My emotional reaction was a sigh of relief. This at least gives us 6 months to reach an agreement. In that sense, the in-principle agreement is positive, but we need to look at the fine print”.
So, what kind of treaty between the UK and the EU on Gibraltar would you be satisfied with?
“I subscribe to the area of shared prosperity initiative. It would be an incredibly positive thing. There is room for symbiosis, and it is inexplicable that we have not done more. In the region we have the Port of Algeciras, a success story, especially for freight traffic, and we have the port and the airport… then you have Morocco on the other side. It is foolish that we have not already achieved an area of shared prosperity. That is what I am aiming for. Of course, leaving aside the question of sovereignty.”
“For Gibraltar, the ideal situation is self-determination; similar to Northern Ireland, and for Spain to abandon its claim to sovereignty; let the Gibraltarians decide. The United Kingdom has always supported us in this”.
And with this, relations with Spain should be improved:
“Our relationship with Spain has improved. The PSOE has always been more favourable in reaching agreements and understandings with Gibraltar, without abandoning its claim to sovereignty”.
“But I will go further; it has been shown that there may even be understanding with the Spanish right-to-centre parties, like the one represented by the former Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, who demonstrated understanding at the beginning of the process. We are a different place, and we have our idiosyncrasies.”
“We have many ties with Spain, but also with the United Kingdom. This is something to celebrate; it’s a beautiful thing”.
And he wants to improve this relationship further: “The immediate reaction in Spain when Gibraltar is mentioned is to say that it is Spanish… without thought. I hope to one day convince people that this is not the case. We need to abandon the flags and start talking in terms of what is practical and human”.
On the issue of the possibility of a Spanish police presence at Gibraltar’s airport and port in the future, he says that it would not be acceptable to Gibraltarians:
“For us, psychologically, it would be hard. We must consider that our history and the closure of the frontier is hardwired in our DNA, especially those of my generation… I was born with a closed frontier. The presence of Spanish police would reopen wounds because we have not yet established that trust – Spain must earn it.”
“We have significant support from the UK in this regard, which is very good for us on a psychological and practical level”.