Just over a month ago Gibraltar once again chose a GSLP/Liberal Government at the polls. That victory was a ringing endorsement of our work in office over the last four years and it provided overwhelming public backing for the policies set out in our 2015 election manifesto. We could not have asked for more.
In the last four years we succeeded in implementing an ambitious programme of Government. In almost every area we delivered a revolution and a new way of doing things. In housing, education, health, social services, tourism, the environment, town planning, Parliament and culture, to name but a few areas, we have changed Gibraltar for the better.
The people who voted for that change in 2011 were clearly satisfied with how we brought those changes about when the time came to express their view again in 2015.
It has been a pleasure to continue to be a part of that Government team and for me personally to have been able to drive forward some of those areas. Parliament has gone from two or three meetings a year to ten meetings a year. Business that was conducted in secret, like town planning decisions, are now discussed and determined in public.
We said we would listen to the views of the electorate and we have done so. That electorate has now entrusted us with a second term.
There were areas of Government which saw my involvement over the last term and many of these were rewarding and helped to improve people’s lives. However, the policy decision that we took in Cabinet to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Wartime Evacuation of Gibraltarians will always have a special place among our actions in Government.
It was very fulfilling to see the faces of those former evacuees who proudly participated in the Memorial event at Casemates, who attended the highly emotional WW2 Concert at the Victoria Stadium and who saw themselves at the centre of the exhibition at the John Mackintosh Hall. It was a genuine honour to have been part of the Government that put all this together.
The gradual transformation of the Northern Defences from a neglected and deteriorated “jungle” into a world class tourist site spanned the latter part of our last term in office and will continue into this new one. The work done on site so far has exposed a staggering network of fortifications connected by tunnels, walls, underground chambers and defensive positions.
The Northern Defences kept Gibraltar British centuries ago and resisted siege after siege from Spain and her wartime allies. That story should be told and it will be told.
It was very encouraging to see hundreds of people enjoy the guided tours that were conducted by the Heritage Trust and other volunteers. An inter-ministerial committee of the Government is now discussing the way forward.
The identity of the people of any country is rooted in their past and Gibraltar is no exception. Constitutional reform and political progress have gone hand in hand over the decades.
We have a manifesto commitment to open the constitutional debate once again and to look at a number of issues closely including the on-going development of human rights and the requirement for Gibraltar’s removal from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The level of self-government attained in 2006 now needs to be taken a step further a decade later in partnership with the United Kingdom whose politics, culture, education and values is an inextricable part of what we are.
It is worth recalling that sixty years ago, in 1956, that same Constitutional debate resulted in the promulgation of an Order in Council whereby the military Governor was replaced by a Speaker in Gibraltar’s Legislative Council, although the first Speaker was not actually in place until a couple of years later. In 1956 also, the number of elected members of the Legislature was increased giving them a majority over nominated officials.
These moves were seen by some as revolutionary steps at the time. These steps seem perfectly logical in retrospect. We must certainly learn from the lessons of the past.
Looking forward, it is obvious that issues relating to Gibraltar’s position in the European Union will continue to dominate. The referendum on the UK’s position in Europe will include Gibraltar as promised.
There has been considerable work at official level between the UK and Gibraltar Governments behind the scenes and our Bill was published a couple of weeks ago. This will make provision to mirror UK legislation in relevant areas given that it is a UK-led referendum. The Bill is a one-off which will repeal itself after the Referendum had taken place. It has been very interesting to chair the technical committee and to participate in the internal discussions that have led up to it.
The position that the Liberals and our partners in the GSLP have taken is to campaign for the UK and Gibraltar to remain in the EU.
There are all sorts of political and economic issues in favour of this position. Gibraltar is a part of the European mainland and is connected to it by a hostile neighbour. Although we would all have liked the EU to have been more robust in defence of our legitimate rights as EU nationals in EU territory, the reality is that on issues like bunkering, land reclamation and the artificial reef, Brussels has found no beach of EU law. There have been three monitoring missions to the border since 2013. The situation would have been much worse were we outside the framework of EU law.
Against this background, we will continue to take Gibraltar’s message to Europe throughout 2016, spearheaded by our new office in Brussels.
In the same way, we will continue to lobby in Washington, in London and at the United Nations in New York. There will be a focus on greater coordination between these different strands and a number of new initiatives are under active consideration.
And so, as 2016 gets underway you can rest assured that during this New Year and during this term of office, in Government we will continue to implement our new manifesto in the same methodical way as we did the old one.
We will once again deliver what we promised.
We will do so with humility but with the same efficiency, conscious of the mandate that we have received.
The New Year 2016 will bring its challenges. We have to remain confident that we will tackle those challenges and that we will overcome them has we have done in over three centuries of our turbulent history.
I take the opportunity on behalf of my wife and family to wish you a happy and prosperous 2016.