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Gibraltar is proud of its long engagement with the Commonwealth family

Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia MP, Minister for relations with the Commonwealth

On 31 January last year, the Commonwealth flag replaced the flag of the European Union at the border. This was seen as a powerful symbolic statement at the time. It reflected the policy of the Government in one simple gesture by making it clear that as one door closed, other doors would open.

This is important because today, Monday 8th March, marks Commonwealth Day across all member countries and the wider number of territories that make up the Commonwealth family. This year’s theme for Commonwealth Day is ‘Delivering a Common Future’ and, as we seek to reset our relationship with the European Union, that with the Commonwealth too has become more relevant than ever before.

Gibraltar has a long and proud tradition of engagement with the institutions, organisations and countries of the Commonwealth. This is a tradition that goes back decades and it is a reflection of the common values, ideals and principles that we share as part of the same family. Indeed, one of my first acts as a Parliamentarian in 1999 was to attend a global conference of Commonwealth Parliamentarians.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) brings together MPs from different parts of the Commonwealth. These debate current issues and seek to learn from the experiences of the other. Gibraltar belongs to the British Islands and Mediterranean Region. Government and Opposition MPs take part in these discussions and my colleague Samantha Sacramento currently chairs the Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, having taken part in the latest virtual meeting only a few days ago.

The Minister for Economic Development Sir Joe Bossano is actively involved in the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. Steven Linares, the Minister for Housing, is an alternate on the Board of the Commonwealth Local Government Association. Indeed, the CEO of our Postal Services is the current Chairman of the Conference of Commonwealth Postal Administrations. There are many connections between Gibraltar and the Commonwealth on a day to day basis and some of these are less well known.

Young people are particularly important here. 60% of the citizens of the Commonwealth are under the age of 30. It is vital that our young people have a voice and a clear role in shaping the future of our relationships going forward. The Government has needed no convincing of this. In 2018, we were delighted to send young people, Tammy Randall and Mark Montegriffo, to the Commonwealth Youth Parliament in Jersey for the first time. The following year two others, Adriana Lopez and Aaron Santos, went all the way to Delhi, in India to represent Gibraltar. In 2020, Jared Peralta and Kyle Bautista took part in a virtual session, constrained by the restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. All of them proved to be excellent ambassadors for Gibraltar and were deeply energised by the experience.

Some years ago, we initiated a policy of taking young people of sixth form age to visit the EU institutions in Brussels. That policy was changed after the 2016 referendum and the focus of those educational visits moved to the institutions and organisations of the Commonwealth based in London instead. Sadly, the pandemic has curtailed this activity too.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) takes place every two years and other events are organised around it. Gibraltar was able to send delegates to the last one in London and participated in the Fora organised for People, Business, Women and Youth. The 2020 CHOGM meeting in Rwanda last June was another casualty of the pandemic and it was postponed to this year. In the event that it materialises, Gibraltar will again seek to be present in order to put across our point of view.

The event that has the greatest impact on Gibraltar are the Commonwealth Games. These represent the highest level of competition for many of our sportspeople and Gibraltar has the distinction of having participated in every Games since the first one in 1958. Indeed, it will be recalled that we put forward a bid to host the Commonwealth Youth Games here, but these were awarded to Trinidad and Tobago at the time. We will try again in the future.

Gibraltar joined the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) in 2017. This is the trading and business arm of the Commonwealth. The CWEIC has just opened an office in Gibraltar and the Government hopes to welcome its Chairman, Lord Marland, back to Gibraltar for a formal opening as the pandemic restrictions subside.

It will be recalled that for decades, Gibraltar has been there for the Commonwealth family and the Commonwealth family has been there for us. In 1915, during World War One, Gibraltar provided a safe haven for injured servicemen from Australia and New Zealand who arrived here on hospital ships from the conflict in Gallipoli. In 1940, Jamaica hosted some two thousand Gibraltarian civilians who were evacuated there after the outbreak of the Second World War. In the 1960s, Australia passionately defended the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar at the United Nations in New York. Indeed, when the United Nations refused to send observers to the referendum that was held here in 1967, it was the Commonwealth that agreed to do so instead. That team of Commonwealth observers was headed by New Zealand’s then Ambassador to France. It included Kenya’s Ambassador to West Germany and Jamaica’s Assistant Attorney General. These are clear examples of what it meant to be a part of the family.

In more recent times, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment has deployed soldiers to Kenya, Cyprus and Sierra Leone over the years. They also served on a month long deployment to Canada as part of a large multi-national exercise. Members of the Regiment were deployed to Gambia a few years ago, where they provided training and mentoring for the Gambian forces’ UN deployment to the Darfur region of Sudan. All of these are Commonwealth countries.

Gibraltar was particularly proud to have made a small effort to assist those Caribbean Commonwealth territories affected by the hurricane in 2017 with aid, with supplies and with vehicles. These were specifically Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Dominica. Again this demonstrates the importance of being part of the family.

It is perfectly logical that our friends in that family take an interest in us too. The very first enquiry that Gibraltar received after the 2016 referendum came from the High Commissioner of Canada to the United Kingdom. This was followed by Australia and New Zealand. The representatives of all three visited Gibraltar before we left the European Union in order to learn more about our issues and our concerns.

In 2019 we marked 70 years of the foundation of the Commonwealth in 1949. Today, on Commonwealth Day, the message is clear. Gibraltar is now closer than ever to the Commonwealth. Brexit has been the catalyst that has strengthened those relations. Gibraltar now has to take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead; a future that, no doubt, our young people will help to shape.

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