Thursday, 14th June 2012
‘Gib will be British in perpetuity’ Picardo tells Prince at conclusion of Royal visit
by Brian Reyes
Prince Edward was handed a replica set of the Keys of Gibraltar by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday, with the message that the Rock would be British in perpetuity.
The symbolic act came at the end of an “inspirational” three-day Royal visit during which the Prince and his wife, Sophie Rhys-Jones, touched the heart of the local community with their warmth and enthusiasm for the Rock and its people.
Mr Picardo gave him the keys to deliver to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a gift from Gibraltar on her Diamond Jubilee.
Prince Edward accepted the keys as he stood before a poster-sized copy of the Gibraltar Chronicle’s 1954 coverage of the Queen’s visit to the Rock. In the poster, a black and white photograph showed the Queen holding the real Keys of Gibraltar 59 years ago.
In making the presentation, Mr Picardo echoed the words of Sir Joshua Hassan, who was the
first of Gibraltar’s elected representatives to address the Queen.
“Your Royal Highness, I am deeply conscious of the unique honour and high privilege that has fallen upon me of addressing Your Royal Highness as the humble mouthpiece of the Parliament of Gibraltar to offer you, as a most loyal and heartfelt gift on behalf of the British People of Gibraltar, this replica of the Keys to the City and Garrison of Gibraltar, which will be forever British in perpetuity,” Mr Picardo told the Prince. “God save the Queen.”
The Earl told those gathered at the presentation that he would treasure the gift and present it to Her Majesty the Queen on his return to the United Kingdom.
This was the final act in a busy three days that saw the Earl and Countess of Wessex whizz around the Rock from engagement to engagement, meeting representatives from across Gibraltarian society.
At every stop the Royal couple was greeted with patriotic fervour and embraced by the community.
The visit came at a difficult time in Gibraltar’s relations with Spain.
The Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy has toughened its stance on Gibraltar, scrapping the trilateral process and calling for a return to bilateral talks with the UK on sovereignty.
Likewise the Gibraltar Government’s position on fishing has resulted in a dispute over fishing rights and a tense situation at sea.
The Royal visit itself had also angered the Spanish Government, which described it as “unfortunate”.
But yesterday the focus was on Gibraltar’s overwhelmingly positive response to the Earl and Countess, and to the wider Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
“The people of Gibraltar celebrated this year with the whole of the British community, the Commonwealth and the Overseas Territories: 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign, and that is what matters,” Mr Picardo said.
“Everything has gone perfectly smoothly. This visit has been absolutely inspirational to existing and future generations of Gibraltarians. I think Gibraltar has really taken the Royal couple to heart in representation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on this fantastic Diamond Jubilee.”
Mr Picardo was speaking after Prince Edward inaugurated a terrace in the new airport terminal, which has yet to be fully completed and opened for departures.
The plaque read: “Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Terrace was named to commemorate 60 years on the Throne by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and was visited by HRH the Prince and Princess Edward, Earl and Countess of Wessex on 13th June 2012.”
The Royal couple also inaugurated – albeit in private, away from the cameras – a departure lounge that now bears the name, the Wessex Lounge.
On the terrace, the Earl and the Countess of Wessex were joined by the Chief Minister, his wife Justine and a number of other ministers and guests, including Opposition leader Peter Caruana.
Before the plaque was unveiled Mr Caruana shared a laugh with the Prince and the Chief Minister. The three discussed, in light hearted terms, whether the terminal should be described as ‘overpriced’ or ‘a bold statement’.
Throughout the visit, the Royal couple had been tracked closely by press cameras but had refrained from making public statements.
Yesterday was no different, except for the occasional quip.
“Are you ready?” Prince Edward asked the press pack as he prepared to unveil the plaque. “I’m only going to do this once.”
With a flourish, he whipped away the covering and smiled for the cameras, adding: “There you go.”
The plaque unveiled, the gathering was treated to a formidable rendition of God Save the Queen by local schoolgirl Chloe Martinez. The Countess of Wessex later remarked that Chloe had a wonderful voice.
Sophie Rhys-Jones also expressed amusement at the fact that she had been able to see herself and the Prince reflected in the glass panelling of the terminal behind the press pack during the national anthem. She said it had made a change from the usual sight of a bank of cameras.
The Royal couple passed through a tri-service guard of honour as they departed from the terminal and boarded the British Airways flight back to London.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex were the last to board the flight home to the UK.
Mr Picardo and his team had already boarded the same plane, en route to New York for Friday’s meeting of the UN Committee of 24 on decolonisation.
They were the first passengers to depart from the new terminal.
They were also the only ones, the remaining passengers having been bussed to the plane from the old terminal while the plaque was being unveiled.
The press pack had been expecting the Earl and Countess of Wessex to inaugurate the air terminal but, in the end, the opening ceremony was limited to a terrace overlooking the apron and the new airport’s departure lounge.
This, government officials insisted yesterday, had been the plan all along.
Their Royal Highnesses inaugurated and named the viewing terrace as the Diamond Jubilee Terrace and the general aviation areas as the Wessex Lounge.
Officials were at pains yesterday to stress that it had never been the intention for the Royal couple to name the terminal itself.
“The final acts of the visit took place at the new airport building where the programme undertaken was exactly as had been agreed some months ago with the Royal Household and has not been subject to any changes as a result of statements or pressure from anyone,” the Gibraltar Government said in a statement.
That last comment was a reference to Jose Ignacio Landaluce, the PP mayor of Algeciras who had earlier this week asked the Royals to refrain from opening the terminal, which Spain says is located on disputed land.
“Absolutely nothing has changed as a result of that comment,” a senior government official told the Chronicle.
The Gibraltar Government has thanked everyone involved in the organisation of the Royal visit, which was deemed a great success at its conclusion yesterday.
“The Government extends its thanks to all those within the Royal Household, the Government and the Convent who have spent many hours planning the visit to the last detail and have ensured that all arrangements worked perfectly to deliver Their Royal Highnesses’ programme so seamlessly,” it said in a statement.
Opposition leader Peter Caruana yesterday echoed the positive sentiment felt across Gibraltar as a result of the Royal visit.
“It’s been a great visit,” Mr Caruana told the Chronicle.
“It’s gone spectacularly well for Gibraltar.”
Mr Caruana was speaking at the new air terminal, where he had been a guest at the naming ceremony of the viewing terrace now known as the Diamond Jubilee Terrace.
The Gibraltar Government had asked Mr Caruana to be there in recognition of the fact that the terminal was built under the GSD administration.
But Royal visit or otherwise, political differences over the facility remain.
After the Earl and Countess of Wessex had departed, Mr Caruana urged the Gibraltar Government to press ahead with the full opening.
“What the government now needs to do is get on with opening the terminal, which we think is taking much longer than it should,” he said in answer to questions from a Chronicle reporter.
“Soon we shall be suspecting whether they are playing it longer than they need to. The terminal is ready and there is no need to submit people to the inconvenience of using the old terminal any longer. Whatever teething problems there are can be sorted out in operation.”