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Commonwealth offers opportunities for Gibraltar outside the EU, seminar hears

by Scott Chipolina

Gibraltar and the overseas territories should be represented at future meetings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said as he underlined the Rock’s readiness to embrace “a global outlook” outside the European Union.

Speaking at a seminar last Thursday entitled 'Changing Times: Brexit, the Commonwealth and Opportunities for Gibraltar’, Dr Garcia outlined Gibraltar’s current participation in numerous Commonwealth bodies but said representation at the top table would be welcome too.

“I would call for provision to be made for Gibraltar, and those Overseas Territories who wish it, to be represented at the actual Heads of Government meeting in the future,” he said.

“This could be achieved through the creation of a new status of Participating Guest or through some new kind of Affiliate or Associate Membership.”

Dr Garcia said he had discussed the role of Britain’s overseas territories within the Commonwealth with the organisation’s Secretary General, acknowledging that different bodies under the Commonwealth umbrella had already adjusted their structures to accommodate smaller jurisdictions like Gibraltar.

And he added: “Gibraltar is ready for a new global outlook, as we leave the European Union.”

“This does not mean we will turn our backs on Europe.”

“Together with the United Kingdom, we will work on developing a new future relationship with the European Union.”

“Indeed, Gibraltar may even end up closer to the EU than the United Kingdom itself.”

“Whilst these challenges may be new, our sense of a collective responsibility in turbulent times, and of collaboration to create mutual prosperity is nothing new to any of us.”

Dr Garcia was speaking as part of a panel that included Lord Marland, Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council; Alexander Downer, former Foreign Minister of Australia; Akbar Khan, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; and Jared Peralta, who represented Gibraltar at the 2018 Commonwealth Youth Forum.

The Deputy Chief Minister sketched out recent developments with Brexit and said the “European Union have let Gibraltar down badly”, adding that Gibraltar’s 96% vote for Remain had “counted for precious little”.

But he was optimistic too for Gibraltar after Brexit, emphasising the importance Gibraltar's economy holds for Spain.

He noted that “Spanish exports to Gibraltar increased from 1.2 billion euros in 2017 to 1.5 billion euros in 2018”, adding that Cadiz province “now exports more to Gibraltar than to France or even the United Kingdom”.

Coupled to the 9,158 Spanish workers who cross the border every day, Dr. Garcia laid out in plain sight the shared Spanish and Gibraltarian interest in a fluid border post-Brexit.

But he added: “The consequences of the decision the UK took in June 2016 will continue to haunt us for months and years to come.”

He reminded the audience that it is incumbent on Gibraltar to recall its values of resilience, entrepreneurial ability, courage, determination, and ability to turn “any bleak situation into a new opportunity for growth”.

To this end, Dr. Garcia proudly recollected Gibraltar's Commonwealth history while turning attention to the “countless opportunities” that await future generations in a “young, vibrant Commonwealth”.

Addressing the packed seminar in the Garrison Library, Lord Marland said there are several key traits a society must demonstrate that determine its appeal to international investors: respect for the rule of law, security, the English language, and compassion.

Gibraltar, he said, retains these values “in spades”.

This view was echoed by Mr Downer, who recalled that during his time on the international stage, he learned that there is no greater determinant of a nation's wealth than the success of its domestic policy.

Both the UK and Gibraltar will discover that economic success is more dependent on successful domestic politics than EU membership, he said, noting that “there is no example of a country open to free trade that is poor”.

As the youngest speaker, Mr Peralta recalled his experience representing Gibraltar at the 2018 Commonwealth Youth Forum and described how Commonwealth representatives voted for policy proposals presented at the Forum by their colleagues, with the most popular proposals being presented to Commonwealth heads of states for consideration.

In a Commonwealth where individuals under 30 comprise of 60% of the population, Mr Peralta’s experience showed how Gibraltar can make use of future political and economic opportunities within the young and vibrant community of 53 nations.

This was underlined by Mr Khan, who raised the concept of a “multiplier effect”.

As Commonwealth members are also members of the UN, CARICOM, the African Union, and indeed the European Union, political and economic relationships with these Commonwealth countries can open doors to several other international institutions.