Let us stay British after final Brexit
by Robert Vasquez
All nations that enter into treaties mutually give up small elements of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control to the degree agreed in those arrangements. All nations who belong to the EU, EFTA and/or Schengen have given each other aspects of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control within the limits defined in the treaties creating those organisations.
An important consideration in treaties is that any aspect of shared responsibility should be clearly and precisely defined, so that the sovereignty of entering into any arrangement is upheld and its administration is within the limits of that which is agreed. Individual nations have to keep to the agreed matters and cannot, without breaching any treaty entered by it, act outside the defined and agreed terms of those international accords that it has signed. In that way, by keeping to what has been defined as agreed, the sovereignty of each party to an international treaty is respected.
It was precisely the issue of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control that was and is the central argument of Brexiters. But Gibraltar, at the Brexit Referendum, did not agree. We voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. We agreed to elements of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control being shared with the EU. This is an admirable position to have taken. We should maintain it, recognising our geographical location.
Accordingly, when the words ‘sovereignty, jurisdiction and control’ are used in Gibraltar, one is forced to assume that these words are bounded by the reality that, whilst retaining absolutely our Britishness, we are prepared to enter mutually beneficial arrangements that benefit all, with third countries, in our case the EU through Spain (because the EU has dictated that). However, these arrangements should not transgress our separate British status, which agreed practicalities within defined rules will not do.
Certainly, we are told by our Chief Minister that there are ongoing talks by the UK and Gibraltar with Spain to achieve a deal for Gibraltar.
Right now, no announcement has been made that any arrangement to ensure fluidity at our frontier or shared prosperity for both us and our neighbouring region has been reached. Achieving these objectives is the declared aims of both our Chief Minister and the Spanish Foreign Minister. It is impossible, therefore to comment directly on any specific issue that may be impeding final agreement, despite widespread press speculation about what the issue/s of disagreement might still be.
What can be urged on them is the reality of the potential for economic and financial disaster [a word used by our Chief Minister in this context) that might ensue, to both Gibraltar and the Spanish neighbourhood, if no agreement is reached. The downturn in business and economic activity on both sides of the frontier does not bear thinking about.
The disaster will affect the neighbouring territory more than Gibraltar, which has always had the ability to be fleet of foot and adapt to replace lost business and economic activity. The neighbouring territory does not have those opportunities. The effect on it will be longer term. It would, in the main, only be eased by central Spanish Government intervention. Historically this has not proven to be very generous, to be polite.
One sop that many In Spain refer to and fall back on is that the 15,000 cross-frontier workers have their freedom of passage across the frontier guaranteed. Yes, but will there be employment for that number were there to be no overall agreement to ensure fluidity of passage for all? That is doubtful and so not a strong argument for Spain or the hinterland.
The importance of reaching agreement has been emphasised by both sides. The work to reach such agreement continues. That is good news. Let us hope for progress. Let us hope for a deal. But let us not be hasty to come to conclusions if any such deal is reached. Let us take a deep breath and see it in context and globally.
Let us analyse any deal that may be announced taking into account all considerations. Let us not lose sight of our British resilience and our ability to remain British, which is entirely in our hands and not at the mercy of any practical arrangements to facilitate business and the economy. We must maintain our self-confidence.
Let us remember that practical arrangements are to be administered within set and agreed criteria and rules that due to that agreement do not lessen or undermine our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control. Maturity is called for in assessing any agreement that may be reached. Balance is also necessary. Let us also carefully take into account the downside of non-agreement.
Once all that is done, we can decide individually our view on any deal, but principally let that decision take into account what is the best option to protect our ability to remain British. It may be that by not reaching an agreement at Brexit, it is precisely our capacity to remain British that will be more compromised and our British future shortened. Immediate emotional reactions need to be controlled to ensure we achieve our long term British aspirations, with a future potential to advance toward independence with the interdependence that all nations need.
Robert Vasquez, QC, is a barrister. He is a former chairman of the GSD who stood as an independent candidate at the last election on a platform of democratic reform.