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Opinion & Analysis

‘Us’ and ‘we’ must be defended in Gibexit

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

By Robert Vasquez

I agree with your editor, Brian Reyes’ opinion, ‘Shifting perceptions in a post-Brexit landscape’ (20th October) in many regards, especially the need for self-understanding of whom and what we are, self-confidence grounded on that understanding, and the means to protect all. Crucially, however, nowhere does he attempt to define, in any depth, who ‘us’ is, or ‘we’ are, or to explain the need to protect the prosperity, which is essential to defend who ‘us’ is, or ‘we’ are.

REYES’ CORE VIEW

In his piece, Mr. Reyes argues “…we must have confidence in ourselves and a clear understanding of who we are as a community and what we want for our future.”

He concludes, “We’re clear we won’t share sovereignty, but is self-determination always a question of being on the defensive, ready to see off the next threat? Or do we have a plan on how to exercise it and shape our future? Is being Gibraltarian a question of always defensively batting away the other, or are we able to find the confidence to seize the day and say ‘look, this is us, this is where we’re going’ in this shifting landscape?”

TRUST THE GSLP-LIBERAL ALLIANCE

Yes, of course, self-confidence is a basic requirement to achieve that which our current Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and his GSLP-Liberal Alliance Government are taking the lead on as our elected government. But so are the very essentials needed for our success, in the main the tools and resources, briefly a free-flowing frontier and commercial freedom, to have a vibrant economy and public finances, whilst making no concessions on our identity.

Mr. Picardo and his Government have a difficult task, which is assumed fully by them. They do not include others in the negotiating process. Gibraltar knows where responsibility for any outcome will lie. We are entirely dependent on his Governments’ judgement, and their self-confidence, leaving us to judge how right the outcome will be, but with no choice.

WHAT ARE ‘US’ AND ‘WE’?

Historically, being Gibraltarian has been defined by reference to the stock phrases ‘British sovereignty, jurisdiction and control’, and ‘British we are, British we stay’, but those do not describe what ‘us’ is, or who ‘we’ are. They are mantras describing the political protection that we seek from our ‘big brother’ (or is it colonial masters?), the UK, in the face of the traditional adversary: Spain. In the context of the Gibexit negotiations, it is important that what is encompassed in those phrases should be understood, such as to allow a full defence and protection of who ‘us’ is, and ‘we’ are.

In the recent past, I have tried to set out parameters, online, of who I think ‘us’ is, and ‘we’ are, and by doing so ring-fence that which needs to be protected in the on-going Gibexit negotiations with the EU. I had hoped for wide discussion, but I got very little. I am prompted by Mr. Reyes’ piece to try to stimulate that discussion again, especially as defining them will conflict, by necessity, with aspirations we have to self-determination, save through integration with the UK, which the UK has rejected.

WHAT ‘US’ AND ‘WE’ INCLUDES

I will outline what I believe should be secured, and hopefully safeguarded throughout by those negotiating on our behalf. In doing so that which defines who ‘us’ is, and ‘we’ are begins to emerge.

Gibraltar is unique, it, having been ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht, and due to its subsequent historical progression. Accordingly, Gibraltar is distinct from the UK, Spain, and the EU. What I believe needs to be safeguarded for our future, because they are what make us a distinct community, In no order of priority, includes, our:

• Indivisibility, as a people, from the territory of Gibraltar.
• Constitution.
• Ability to unilaterally withdraw from any Gibexit ‘deal’.
• Sovereign and Royal Family.
• Union flag and Castle & Key emblem.
• British nationality and values.
• English language.
• Connections with the UK, the UK Parliament and Government.
• Governor, with a defined constitutional role.
• UK base and military defence.
• Autonomous Parliament (having to legislate EU Directives, if required under any treaty).
• Reserved powers retained by UK, but with greater evolving devolution to our Parliament.
• Public institutions based on the British model.
• Laws, legal and court system.
• Fiscal, monetary, and budgetary autonomy.
• Police.
• Education system.
• Academic and professional accreditation/training requirements.
• British characteristics and cultural affinity.

All other attributes, which make Gibraltar unique and separate, with an identity forged over more than 300 years by those who came from a variety of parts, and different cultures, to evolve into the distinct people we are today.

Any ‘deal’ that may come from the ongoing EU negotiations should protect those characteristics. In that way, Gibraltar will continue with its unique identity, in much the same way as the individual attributes of every EU member country continue to separately identify each, despite the conformity that comes from their respective memberships. The ability to preserve those differences was something that the UK lost sight of in the Brexit debate and referendum

WILL IT ALL BE SAFEGUARDED?

It is that list which needs to be, and should be safeguarded in any treaty. Not one item, or all collectively, conflicts with the ability to reach agreement with the EU on Gibexit.

Is all that what our negotiators promise to uphold when Mr. Picardo says, there will be no concessions on ‘sovereignty, jurisdiction and control’? Perhaps, Mr. Picardo would like to be more specific on point before the negotiations progress further, especially now, when he has used the word “equities” to replace that long-standing phrase.

None of what is listed undermines our self-government, save such individual compromise on legislative ability as are necessary to make on exclusively Schengen/other agreed relevant EU related matters. Those arrangements on legislative power were accepted by the UK and us, whilst in the EU, and would have continued had we remained in the EU. It is a compromise that the vast majority of Gibraltar showed, in the EU referendum, that it was prepared to accept.

Importantly, in entering the negotiations for a treaty, Spain has acknowledged that these are to proceed without encroachment on our desire to remain British, as captured in the Preamble to the 2006 Constitution.

NO PROSPERTY MEANS NOTHING TO SHARE

Let us support that an acceptable ‘deal’ will be reached. We are told that the ‘shared prosperity’ of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar depends on such an agreement. In the same breath, that necessity needs to be seen by the EU, at least, as needed equally on both sides of the border, or probably as more needed by the Campo, a region of one of its members, Spain.

The EU should understand, and bear in mind, whilst negotiating, that for there to be ‘shared prosperity’ there must be prosperity. If the treaty destroys the ability for there to be affluence, then there will be little to share. The Framework (or political) agreement with Spain, shows Spain’s current Government’s understanding and acceptance of that.

It is economic and financial well-being that also allows for ‘us’ and ‘we’ to continue and flourish. It is no victory for us in Gibraltar to say, if that were to cease or decrease, families and individuals will emigrate, as that would be a surrender by each who leaves Gibraltar.

If the foundations of prosperity are undermined or weakened, those who say a treaty will deliver to Gibraltar a future like that of La Linea will unfortunately be proved right. It is an outcome against the declared objectives of each of the UK, Spain, and Gibraltar, and so, surely, one that is not wanted by any. Therefore, they must each work hard to convince the EU to come to an all-round beneficial result in the form of an acceptable treaty.

Compromise, whilst safeguarding what allows for economic and financial well-being, and respecting those fundamentals which make us a unique territory and community, uncomplicated by wider EU and other ongoing Brexit related issues, arguments, and considerations, none of which impact directly on Gibraltar, is what may allow space for a treaty to be concluded.

Robert Vasquez, QC, is a barrister. He stood as an independent candidate at the last general election on a platform of democratic reform.

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