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Opinion & Analysis

Terra incognita

Image Courtesy Of Gibraltar Chronicle

The unthinkable has happened. Britain has voted to leave the EU, dragging Gibraltar with it.

This community, conscious of the seismic implications of what was at stake in the referendum on EU membership, turned out in force and voted to Remain.

But its voice was drowned out in the surge of support for Leave in the UK. The final result points to a divided Britain. This is not an overwhelming victory for the Brexiteers. The UK is torn in two.

The future now is filled with uncertainty. What will be the shape of Britain’s relationship with the EU? What will be Gibraltar’s place in that relationship? How will Spain react? And what will be the wider impact on the EU itself?

The weeks and months ahead will be challenging, of that there is absolutely no doubt.

Gibraltar must ensure that the very particular circumstances that this community faces - not least the prospect of Spain seeking to capitalise on Brexit - are properly taken into account by Britain as it renegotiates its relationship with the EU.

Spain will likely seek to exclude us from any negotiation and José Manuel García-Margallo said as much in an interview yesterday. The UK must not allow that to happen.

Either way, the risks ahead are great and they are not helped by Spain’s fractured political landscape. Much will also depend on the outcome of Sunday's general election in Spain. A government of the right would add to the tortuous road we must now travel.

In that respect, the UK’s reaffirmation yesterday that it will not move on sovereignty or even discuss it against the wishes of the Gibraltarians was welcome.

Britain must stand by that commitment because, as this community has signalled time and again, our British sovereignty is not up for discussion. It is something that not only Spain but its EU partners too should take on board.

Yesterday amounted to a leap into the unknown. For all their promises of taking back control, those advocating Brexit never laid out a concrete plan to explain what shape the future would take. We are journeying into terra incognita.

As with any challenge though, there will be opportunities alongside tough times. Gibraltar must protect its current economy as best it can while looking to other markets to reposition it as necessary. We are entrepreneurs, that is our heritage, and we will rise to the challenge.

Anyone who doubts this should pause and reflect on the two stand-out images from the EU referendum campaign in Gibraltar.

The first was of Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Opposition leader Daniel Feetham and deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia standing side by side to champion Remain.

The other image was of Mr Picardo with his surviving predecessors in the post of Chief Minister: Sir Peter Caruana, Joe Bossano and Adolfo Canepa.

Gibraltar likes vigorous political debate. The clash of ideas lies at the heart of our democratic system.

But Gibraltar also wants its leaders to pull in the same direction whenever the occasion demands.

In the run-up to the referendum, the Rock’s politicians – past and present – spoke with one voice on the importance of EU membership to Gibraltar. The rest of the community rallied round. Ultimately, it was a unity that transcended politics.

Now, as we face the uncertainty of a future outside Europe, it is imperative that Gibraltar’s political leaders continue working together for the good of Gibraltar.

The government must, of course, account for its actions and decisions, and the GSD must be robust in its opposition.

But our MPs have proved, as others have done before them, that they can set aside their differences when the situation demands it. They have shown leadership in troubled times, and must continue to do so.

That is what we will expect of them in the weeks and months ahead. The veneer of unity must ultimately run deep.

In return, they will have our trust and support.