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Opinion & Analysis

The strongest relationship

By Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar

This holy week has been a really important week for Gibraltar.

A visit from a Foreign Secretary is, on its own, an important political moment in Gibraltar.

Indeed, not every Foreign Secretary has made time to visit Gibraltar.

Some have come to deliver hard messages, like Jack Straw, and they have heard stern responses from the people of Gibraltar.

In the case of Dominic Raab, his visit was not the opportunity to deliver a hard message, but a chance to celebrate the strength of the relationship between our respective governments.

Additionally, the visit represented a chance also to make history in the positive sense.

In the first instance, it is remarkable to note that the Foreign Secretary was accompanied by the Minister for Europe and the Americas, Wendy Morton.

Mrs Morton has worked with me on many of the key post-Brexit issues and the many Covid-related issues on which we have liaised closely with the United Kingdom.

To have both a Foreign Secretary and a Minister for Europe in Gibraltar at the same time is a demonstration, on its own, of the commitment, in time and resources, that the UK is directing at Gibraltar at this crucial time.

In meetings in the past three months, as we have worked with subject matter experts put at our disposal in the key Whitehall departments that relate to our EU Treaty negotiations, we have had between 50 and 90 officials on daily video conference calls.

We are getting real bandwidth in order to plan our negotiation in the best way to deliver a UK/EU Treaty on Gibraltar that works for all sides.

That is the "win-win" that the Foreign Secretary referred to in his press conference statement.

But the visit this week had a real and substantive reason underpinning it which went beyond the very welcome confidence boost that most Gibraltarians will have felt from seeing Mr Raab and Mrs Morton here.

The principal purpose of the meeting was to hold our first UK/Gibraltar Joint Ministerial Council in Gibraltar.

As we dissected our negotiation of the New Year's Eve Framework Agreement in early January, I had invited the Foreign Secretary to hold the next JMC in Gibraltar.

He had agreed it was a good idea and officials worked assiduously to deliver that outcome.

This JMC was a hugely important one because it would, in effect, mark the distillation of our official negotiating mandate and the beginning of our more detailed discussions with social and industry players as we prepare to start this negotiation.

This seminal moment should, rightly, be held in Gibraltar.

A Foreign Secretary will never need to be too inventive to avoid a visit to Gibraltar if he wants to.

His always full diary is the easiest reason to cry out of a visit.

Instead, Dominic Raab arrived at the appointed time and saw Gibraltar for himself.

He then gave me and the Deputy Chief Minister time for a direct half hour of face to face discussions.

And thereafter, we met in a JMC that was held in our Cabinet Office and was chaired by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar.

We agreed then the joint statement which reflected the work we have done since the 31st December.

Anecdotally, "Calentita" and "torta de acelgas" were served as a snack during the proceedings. We were delighted that even beyond just politely tasting our chickpea delicacy, Mr Raab asked for seconds.

A real understanding of the Gibraltarian psyche surely calls for an understanding of our stomachs, undoubtedly the way to Yanito hearts.

The JMC had started with a presentation to the Foreign Secretary not just of a GFA shirt, but, more importantly, of the manifest of the vessel MS Narkunda, which in 1942 evacuated his grandparents and father (Peter) from Gibraltar (where they had arrived from Tangier) to the UK alongside many Gibraltarians still being removed in our evacuation.

That is a link we Gibraltarians share with Dominic Raab that we have never shared with any of his predecessors.

The depth of our relationship has that substance at its core.

After the short joint press conference for the local media which I hosted, Mr Raab than attended a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council from Gibraltar (from the Governor's office, with a watercolour of Gibraltar behind him).

Given our sometimes fractious relationship with the United Nations, this was a fitting demonstration, in real terms, of the point Chief Ministers have repeatedly made of how British Gibraltar is.

Not that Dominic Raab or Wendy Morton would need reminding.

As they walked Main Street with Joseph Garcia and me, the public were all keen to deliver the same message: 'We have never been luckier to be British - thank you for your support.'

Those words would roll off the tongue at most moments in our history, but perhaps now they are more poignant than ever.

We have our guaranteed market access for Financial Services to the UK and we are part of the new UK trade deals with the rest of the world.

We have had support in dealing the financial aspects of Covid and we have had our vaccines from the United Kingdom at no cost to the Gibraltarian taxpayer when the rest of Europe is have great difficulty securing vaccine supply.

And we have a team at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office which is working with us to deliver a treaty that will make us the only British territory with a fluidity agreement with the European Union.

This is a time to recognise the support we are getting from King Charles Street and from Downing Street, the strongest in our recent history.

Dominic Raab's visit was the embodiment of that.

Let that sink in as we head into these negotiations in partnership with the United Kingdom.

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