Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar is pleased to note the references by the representative of the Kingdom of Spain at the United Nations decolonisation seminar organised in Dominica this year by the UN’s Decolonisation Committee of 24.
The Seminar was attended this year, as it is every year, by the Minister for Economic Development, Sir Joe Bossano KCMG, MP.
On the occasion of National Day 2021, Sir Joe said: “I am delighted to share with the people of Gibraltar the exciting news of what took place in Dominica after I delivered my U.N. speech and to thank those who have put comments in support of the views and sentiments of the speech, which is what I’ve been arguing at the UN since I started going there as Chief Minister against the wishes of the UK government at the time and with the objective of killing off the Brussels process, which is now as good as dead.
My first visit was after an absence of a Gibraltarian view of twenty-five years when only Spain’s were heard at the U.N.
One of the most important things we have needed to achieve at the UN has been the recognition of our status as the people of the territory, the Gibraltarian people.
Achieving that will not get rid of the obstacle that is the Spanish claim, which will still be there.
But unless we are recognised as the people of the territory, we are not in a position to claim the right to self-determination.
The great news that I want to share is that the exchanges at the Dominica seminar may well have resulted in the delivery of that recognition.
At the same time, I want to reassure you, about the nature of my trip, which was no Caribbean holiday.
The travelling arrangements were going to London, from London to Barbados, from Barbados to St Lucia and from St Lucia to Dominica.
Participating in the following three days of debates and then making the journey back, which in fact proved to be quite difficult as there was a strike on the day the plane was due to leave in the morning after the closure of the seminar.
After a wait of almost 12 hours in the airport, the Dominican Government managed to obtain a small propeller plane with four passenger seats to take us to Barbados, where we got on the London flight by the skin of our teeth.
In the one-and-a-half-hour flight in this small plane to Barbados, incidentally, I spent, accompanied by the Spanish representative from the New York mission who had made the speech and given the size of the plane, we were stuck shoulder to shoulder together as if we were Siamese twins.
Of course, those of you who know me well are aware that I have never gone on holiday or taken a day’s leave in the 49 years that I have been in parliament, whether I was in Government or in opposition.
During the years of opposition between 1996 and 2011, I didn’t just attend the seminars at my own expense.
I also attended two other meetings in New York; the committee of twenty-four meeting in June and the fourth committee meeting in October.
So I have no doubt that this is something that really needs doing.
I believed in keeping on doing it from the opposition at my expense and even when the Chief Minister of the day stopped going to the seminars after the 2006 constitution.
It is important to realise that the composition of these committees are constantly changing and that therefore, although quite often the arguments delivered by Spain are repeated almost word for word every year, they are not being delivered to the same audience, so they need to be counteracted.
The way the seminar was conducted this year has been a new thing in that it is much more favourable to the dependent territories that attend.
The system now is for the presentation for the territorial government to be first.
There are three sessions, one for the Caribbean, one for the Pacific and one for territories in other areas.
When the Gibraltar item came up on the agenda, I delivered my presentation.
The representative of the Kingdom of Spain was then invited to put his views and then after that I would have the right of reply.
And this would be followed by an invitation to the members of the committee present and others from other countries that were there.
And there were more delegates this year from different countries than ever before, to participate in putting comments based on the exchanges that are taking place between the administering power and the member state.
You can imagine that having made the speech that you may have listened to, I was expected to have to go back on the attack once a Spanish representative from the mission of the UN in New York said his piece.
I will now read the original Spanish version and then do a rough translation for those who may be listening and may not be able to follow totally the Spanish, he said: “intervengo con el mayor respeto por su punto de vista despues de la intervencion del Honorable Senor Bossano. Es un honor hablar despues del Senor Bossano quien has desempenado la mas alta responsable politica y es uno de los artifices principales de la profunda transformaction y progresso economico de Gibraltar de los ultimo 30 anos”
In English, “I am intervening, he said, with the greatest of respect, from the point of view just delivered by the Honourable Mr. Bossano. It is an honour for me to follow Mr. Bossano with my speech. He has the highest levels of political responsibility and is one of the principal architects of the profound transformation and economic progress of Gibraltar over the last 30 years. For my part, I am just a public servant whose role it is to set the position of my country concerning the decolonisation of Gibraltar.”
My friends, for the first time in my life, I was lost for words.
A remarkable departure from the position Spain was still defending as recently as 10 weeks earlier in the Committee of 24 hearing in New York on the 14th of June.
In June, Spain told the committee of 24 that the genuine Gibraltarians were those forced to leave Gibraltar in 1704 when it was captured.
11 months ago in October 2020, before the fourth committee, which is made up of all the UN states, Spain argued that it was the General Assembly, not they, who had been clear in denying the existence of a supposed right to self-determination by a supposed Gibraltarian people which did not exist.
This is the first time in 57 years that Spain has not challenged our claim that we are a genuine people with our own identity.
It is the closest we have ever come in the UN to Spain accepting we are a distinct people and it is something to celebrate in national week.
It is the essence of GSLP Governments decision to declare National Day a public holiday in 1993.
National Day is about our message to the world, asserting we are the people of Gibraltar.
This is the most important advance we’ve ever had at the UN. Happy National Day 2021.”