CM and UK MPs underline self-determination message and commitment to treaty in first National Day rally since Covid
by Priya Gulraj and Gabriella Peralta
The National Day political rally returned to Casemates on Sunday after a four-year hiatus, with speeches underlining Gibraltar’s right to self-determination and desire to remain British, and against the backdrop of treaty talks on the Rock’s post-Brexit future and the prospect of a looming general election here.
National Day celebrations were in full force on Sunday, with Main Street and Casemates packed with people of all ages donning red and white for the first time in four years.
Celebrations were put on hold for two years during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and while preparations were underway for the community event to be held last year, they were cancelled after the news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Royal Gibraltar Police estimated attendance at the rally at some 4,500 people.
A hush fell over Casemates as the crowds fell silent for a minute’s silence as a mark respect to people in Gibraltar who died of Covid-19, to the late monarch, and to the lives lost in Morocco’s devastating earthquake, which has already killed over 2,000 people.
In paying tribute, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the GHA is already working to send a medical team to Morocco “to help a neighbour that helped us when we needed them”.
Sunday also marked 31 years since the 1967 referendum when Gibraltar resoundingly voted in favour of remaining British.
The celebrations saw the return of United Kingdom MPs and premiers of Overseas Territories who were invited to Gibraltar.
Also in Casemates was the UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, who took in the celebrations from a balcony in Casemates while on a private visit to the Rock with his family.
It was the first time a serving Foreign Secretary was in Gibraltar for National Day, even if he did not participate in the official events and kept his presence low-key.
He declined media interviews but exchanged some words with members of the public as he left the square after the rally.
Quizzed by journalists from the Chronicle and GBC, Mr Cleverly said only: “Today I’m just here on holiday celebrating National Day with my good friends here. It’s not a work visit today.”
Ahead of the event King Charles III conveyed a message of congratulations to the people of Gibraltar for National Day in a letter sent via the Governor of Gibraltar, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, and read out by the Chief Minister in his speech.
“I look forward to the continuing warm friendship and the strong and close partnership that we share working together for prosperity, democracy and peace as we face those challenging times,” King Charles said in the letter.
“As you and the people of Gibraltar celebrate today, my wife joins me in sending you our very best wishes for the year ahead.”
Mr Picardo also shared a message from the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who reassured Gibraltar that the UK Government “will never, ever enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes”.
Mr Sunak also said the UK would not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations “with which Gibraltar is not content”.
“The UK and Gibraltar are joined by an enduring bond,” Mr Sunak wrote to the Chief Minister.
“We may be geographically separated but Gibraltar is a precious part of the UK family within our great Commonwealth.”
“On Gibraltar's National Day, we celebrate that and we look forward together.”
“Happy National Day to all.”
The Chief Minister said that while he was “overjoyed” to be back in Casemates Square for National Day celebrations, it was “tinged with sadness” as he remembered that more than 100 Gibraltarians died because of Covid.
“There is a part of all of us, I know, that longs for a loved one, a mother, a father, a grandparent, a friend, someone who was with us here in Casemates last time we celebrated together in 2019, who is not with us today,” he said.
“We all feel that void, a void that will never be filled of all who were here then, but were lost to the cruelty of the pandemic.”
Mr Picardo commented on the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme which was supported by the UK Government.
He also recognised the health care workers and essential services, “and everyone else that pulled us through the darkness to celebrate our new future”.
“A future with a renewed sense of hope, a new understanding of the value of life, and in an unwavering pursuit of our ambitions as a people, the great indomitable people of Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.
“We honour them, and we honour all those before them.”
“In particular, the Referendum Generation, those who sought off Franco, those whose efforts, whose resilience, and whose commitment to the great cause of the people of Gibraltar have made this place my, your, our favourite place on earth.”
“The wonderful place that we call home.”
“Because this place belongs to us and only to us.”
“And it will forever belong only to our children, and our children's children like it belonged to our forefathers who are buried in the sacred grounds of all our religions and none.”
Joined on the stage by Gibraltar’s government and Opposition MPs, Mr Picardo said Gibraltar is “almost there” on getting a safe and secure deal on Brexit, some seven years since the EU referendum vote was held.
“After two years of negotiation, we’re on the cusp of a great deal for Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.
“But let’s be clear.”
“No deal is worth giving up part of our sovereignty.”
“So let me say one thing to whoever has to hear it.”
“I have been in in politics for 30 years in Gibraltar.”
“I spent 30 years defending the rights of Gibraltarians to determine their own future.”
“I spent 30 years declaring that we will not concede one drop of water, one breath of air or one grain of sand.”
“I've been in politics in Gibraltar for 30 years, waiting for that one moment when this socialist Chief Minister would be called upon to quote proudly Mrs Thatcher and say ‘no, no, no’ to anyone who demands any concession of any kind from Gibraltar.”
“Let me tell you that time has come and gone.”
“Our position is clear. Our position is understood. Our position is unshakable.”
“We will work together to achieve an area of shared prosperity, of course.”
“We will work together to maintain fluidity at the frontier, of course.”
“We will work together for the benefit of citizens on both sides of the frontier, of course.”
“But always without a single concession of sovereignty or any element of sovereignty.”
“Saying no to those who claim our land is part of the job description of being Chief Minister of Gibraltar,” he added.
“And believe me, I have known when to say no on your behalf, just as I will know when to say yes.”
As Mr Picardo prepares to call a general election which some expect imminently, he said this might be the last time he had the “privilege” of delivering the National Day address from the centre stage at Casemates Square.
He thanked everyone for “having given him the honour of his life” in becoming the Chief Minister.
“It is my honour to serve you,” he said.
“It is my honour to represent you and it is my honour to defend us all together.”
“And if you decide, I will continue to fight our corner.”
“And if not, if not, wherever I am, whatever I do, you know I will work to continue to ensure that Gibraltar will forever be the Rock of the Gibraltarians.”
“Red, white and blue.”
“Red, white and proud.”
“Red, white and free, I love you Gibraltar.”
‘SOLIDARITY’ WITH GIBRALTAR
There were cross-party messages of support too from MPs both present and via recorded messages.
A video message from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Labour’s David Lammy, was played on the big screen in Casemates.
“It is a chance for me to reiterate the importance of the sovereignty of Gibraltar,” Mr Lammy said.
“It is a cherished part of Britain’s global community and to be absolutely clear that the self-determination of the Gibraltar people is fundamental to their future.”
“I support, of course, the Spain, EU, UK dialogue going forward, but today, I wish you a very happy National Day.”
To everyone here and around the world, Happy Gibraltar Day 🇬🇮 pic.twitter.com/C2Rky0OmCQ
— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) September 10, 2023
From, the balcony overlooking Casemates, Mr Cleverly watched as a video he had posted just a few hours earlier on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, was played on the screens for the crowd.
Standing in front of the stage in an empty square, Mr Cleverly said in the clip: “I'm here in Casemate Square in Gibraltar with the family on holiday, but also taking the opportunity to join you celebrating National Day.”
“So have a wonderful weekend, have a huge amount of fun, and thank you for being such a great friend to the United Kingdom.”
The Foreign Secretary and his family were offered a taste of Gibraltarian cuisine during the event, including ‘torta de acelgas’ and ‘torta de patatas’.
Back on the stage, Tory MP, Sir Bob Neill, a long-term friend of the Rock and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar in the House of Commons, also joined in for the National Day celebrations.
“I promise you, in those four years, all of us in the UK Parliament have been banging the drum for Gibraltar, have been fighting the fight for Gibraltar,” Sir Bob said.
“We've come through testing times, but we've done so together as part of the British family.”
“That's why we're all here, as part of the British family today, from the UK Parliament, from the Overseas Territories, we're here in solidarity with you.”
“And you have the pledge of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group that every one of us, and we represent every major party in the United Kingdom Parliament, is four square behind your continued right to determine your future, your sovereignty, your way of life.”
Peter Biggs, a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, was in Gibraltar for the National Day celebrations this year.
Speaking on behalf of all of the British Overseas Territories, he thanked everyone for “such a warm welcome to this beautiful Rock”.
“As a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, I know just how important it is to be British,” he said.
“Falkland Islanders know how sacred the defence of our self-determination is to all of us, and we must defend it.”
“Speaking on behalf of my colleagues from the other UK Overseas Territories, I can categorically state that we are all delighted to be here in Gibraltar to join with you in celebrating your National Day.”
“The UK's Overseas Territories are all different.”
“We are unique, but we are united, and it is in that unity that there is strength.”
“Together we will defend our right of self determination, our future relationship with the UK and our economic interests.”
“We wish the people of Gibraltar all the very best for their National Day and in the years to come.”
For his part, the Chairman of the Self-Determination Group for Gibraltar, Richard Buttieg, said: “It has been four years since I last stood before you on this wonderful day, our Gibraltar National Day.”
“A day in which we say to all those that might care to listen that this is our land, that this is our home and this is our nation.”
“Thousands of Gibraltarians proudly wearing our red and white colours, celebrating our unique identity and standing up for our right to self-determination is truly inspiring.”
He said seeing the crowds of people was “all the motivation” for the SDGG to continue organising National Day events in Gibraltar.
“And it is right that we should all come here today, every year, united as a community, to proclaim our identity as British Gibraltarians and to show the whole world who we are as a people,” Mr Buttigieg said.
“A people forged from the great sacrifices of many before us, and a people who are used to having to fight for everything that we have.”
“So let some continue to try and take advantage of the Brexit we were dragged into, because it is simply not going to work.”
“There may be delays at the border, there may be trespasses into our waters, but we will not be put it into submission.”
“Intimidation will just not work.”
“The Gibraltarian is far too stubborn to give in to that.”
“And whether others like it or not, absolutely no one will decide the future of Gibraltar except the Gibraltarians.”
“But now, more than ever, we must stand together.”
“There is much more that unites us than separates us.”
“We must stand as one.”
“Because no matter the circumstances, it is very important that we rise to any challenges during what is a critical juncture in our history.”
“And there is no better way to fight over those challenges than as a united community.”