Three years ago exactly, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar left the European Union. We lowered the flag of Europe at our frontier as the UK ended just shy of fifty years of membership of the world’s largest trading organisation.
It was right that the people of Gibraltar had been included in the referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU. We had been members with the UK since 1972. We were citizens of the Union as well as British citizens. Additionally, as a result of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, we voted in elections to the European Parliament as part of a combined region together with the South West region of the UK. Spain’s membership of the EEC had opened our closed frontier, first partially and then completely. Our membership of the EU had not been perfect or without problems, but it had been positive in most respects.
We therefore had a lot at stake in that ill thought through referendum. We turned out massively and decisively. We delivered a verdict like no other – like only we in Gibraltar can. An overwhelming 96% of the Gibraltarians and residents of Gibraltar voted to REMAIN in the EU.
But we respect democracy. We voted as part of the United Kingdom franchise and the majority, misled by pernicious lies dressed up as arguments, voted to leave. So leave we did.
As a result of the negotiations led by me and the Deputy Chief Minister, Joseph Garcia, we left with the benefit of the Transitional Period. Moreover, since then, we agreed a Framework Agreement with Spain and the UK on the last day of 2020 to pave the long and arduous road for a Treaty between the UK and the EU on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU and, in particular, Spain.
We are not there yet, and we may yet not get there, but we are well on the road to such a treaty becoming a positive reality.
Such a treaty will govern the fluidity of movement of persons and goods between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU. It will need to recognise that the interface for us with the rest of the EU is, geographically and physically, via Spain as our neighbouring Member State of the EU.
We have to be realistic and understand that politicians can be asked to do many things by the people they serve, but the one thing we cannot realistically be asked to do is to change the realities of geography!
BREXIT is now a decision that, polls suggest, three years on, the majority of the British people consider was a bad thing for Britain. The majority in the UK now appear to agree with the Gibraltarians and residents of Gibraltar.
Yet we are still working – with a supportive and dedicated UK government team – to deliver our own arrangements with the EU. The EU is engaged in helping us to deliver a deal that works. Spain is playing a pivotal role too.
Gibraltar, the Gibraltarians and residents of Gibraltar were landed with a decision that we did not want and we were clear was not good for us. THOUSANDS of meetings, calls and briefings later, we may be on the verge of a treaty that gives us an opportunity to put BREXIT behind us. Failing that, we will have the downsides of BREXIT to live with daily as we seek the benefits of leaving the EU which the UK itself has found so elusive for now – but we will make it work, and work well, if we have to.
For over six out of the eleven years I have been Chief Minister BREXIT has been the order of the day. I hope we will soon celebrate a better anniversary than the one we are regretting remembering today. This week, I continue travelling and negotiating for that important and noble purpose.