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Opinion & Analysis

The European Union and Gibraltar

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Lord Luce (1)

by The Rt Hon the Lord Luce KG GCVO

All of us in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar are aware of the importance of the Referendum on 23 June to decide whether we remain members of the Union. It is a momentous decision for each of us as it will affect our future, even more for younger people.

As a former Governor of Gibraltar I am conscious of what all this means for Gibraltarians.

But first let me explain why I want the UK to remain in the EU.

In the early 1970s, when I first became an MP, I voted in favour of joining the then Common Market for two reasons. Firstly I wanted my country to be part of a European Free Trade Area where a single market could help to create prosperity for all of Europe.  And secondly I wanted to ensure that we never again fight a war sparked by conflict in Europe.

I have concluded that it is important for us to remain in the EU and to use whatever influence we can to create a more effective and successful way of trading and cooperating together. That way we are more likely to achieve greater prosperity and security.

Of the two options it is a matter of judging the balance of risks and opportunities for the UK.

Both sides have important arguments and there is no need or excuse for demonstrating personal animosity. We are all patriots and believe in our country.  We are still relatively strong economically and militarily.  We demonstrate our soft power through the BBC, the British Council, our language and our membership of many multilateral groups, like the Commonwealth, give us the chance to play a constructive role in the world.

On trade, the risks are bigger if we leave for the options are not so beneficial than being part of the trading group of 28 nations. But that issue has been debated for many weeks.

I am concerned, however, that it is only late in the debate that we are facing up to the issue of our security. This is a time to remember that the nation states of Europe drifted into World War I.  Within 20 years we were fighting again.  Shortly we are to commemorate the catastrophic Battle of the Somme.

Statesmen after the Second World War tried to create a means of cooperation in Europe which would prevent another war from happening.

Today's EU may be frustratingly imperfect but it is better than nation states squabbling and, by staying in, we can do much to strengthen it.

For Gibraltar, I am fully aware that the choice is more stark. In the Debate on The Queen's Speech this week, I have stressed the importance of our obligations to protect Gibraltar.  I am always conscious of the sacrifice that Gibraltarian families made to help safeguard the UK in the Second World War.

Since 1973, Gibraltar has had access to the single market (though of course not of customs, VAT and the Common Agricultural Policy.) The frontier with Spain was of course closed between 1969 and 1985.

Since it has opened the Gibraltar economy has grown steadily and flourishes today. Tourism, well regulated financial services, the gaming industry and the commercial port have all contributed to growing prosperity.  In fact, it is astonishing that there were nearly 10 million land frontier visitors in 2014.  Moreover 7,000 Spaniards have been able to cross the border daily to work in Gibraltar.  The region, including Algeciras, have all benefited economically.

Despite the perpetual harassment by the present Spanish Government, the European Commission has inspected the frontier several times recently and told Spain to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic and pedestrians across the frontier.

Losing unfettered access to the single market would be very damaging for Gibraltar. The British people need to be aware of this.

I know Gibraltarians are robust and have faced many sieges in your history but we need to move to better times. It is a step back to the Franco days to hear the Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr Garcia-Margallo, threaten in the circumstances of British withdrawal from the EU to revive discussion of joint sovereignty.  Gibraltarians have already overwhelmingly opposed this in a recent Referendum.

I challenge HMG to do her utmost to continue to protect Gibraltar in all circumstances.

Moreover, I am very privileged to be the Chancellor of the new University of Gibraltar. In addition to the link with British Universities, the University of Gibraltar has much to offer the region and has already attracted students from Spain and elsewhere.  The EU provides the University with the opportunity for student and staff exchanges, for access to important research grants and for cultural and intellectual exchanges.  We all stand to benefit from this exciting new project.

The petty squabbles of the past in Europe must end. The UK, including Gibraltar, must look to a more mature framework of cooperation within the EU and persuade Spain to work with us in that spirit.  We will all stand to benefit.