The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, who is also Minister for European Affairs, argues that Gibraltar is better off in the European Union. He says that a decision to leave the EU would be a leap in the dark.
In two months Commonwealth and Irish Citizens resident in Gibraltar, alongside those in the United Kingdom, will be asked to go to a polling station and draw a cross in one of two boxes. The question on the ballot paper will be whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or should leave the European Union.
This simple act could have profound consequences for decades to come. The final decision reached on June 23rd is likely to be the most important political decision many of us will make in our lifetimes; bigger than any general election and significant enough to transcend local party-political divide.
The harsh reality is that on June 24th we will either remain in the European Union under the terms negotiated by the Prime Minister earlier this year or UK will commence negotiations for our exit. It is as simple as that.
VOTE TO REMAIN
There is, however, only one choice that is in Gibraltar’s best interests and that is a vote to remain in the EU.
This is my personal opinion that I have reached after weighing up all the facts and the evidence. It is also the policy of the Government, of the Parliament and of all the political parties in Gibraltar.
The EU is the basis for our economic prosperity and stability, it offers us a legal framework of security against a hostile neighbour and it safeguards our fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of movement. On the other hand, voting to leave would be a leap in the dark and would kick-start years of instability and uncertainty as the long, drawn-out negotiations with the remaining 27 EU member states unfold.
The consequences in the event of a leave vote would be serious. Gibraltar has enjoyed special terms of membership since we joined Europe in 1973 enshrined in Articles 28 and 29 of the UK Act of Accession. Those terms of membership were negotiated at a time when virtually nobody in Europe knew much about Gibraltar and those who knew clearly did not care.
AT THE MERCY OF SPAIN
The great political advantage we enjoyed at the time was that Spain was not a Member of the EEC. In the event of a vote to leave the European Union the roles would be reversed. Spain would be firmly inside the EU and we would be the ones seeking to piggy-back on the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship. That is not a good position to be in.
History has shown in a whole range of different international fora what happens when Spain is inside and when we try to join. The lengthy legal struggle to secure admission into UEFA is a case in point. We have not yet managed to join FIFA or the International Olympic Committee.
A vote in favour of leaving risks placing Gibraltar’s interests on a platter before Mr Margallo or whoever happens to be the Foreign Minister in Madrid at the time. Indeed, the spectre of shared sovereignty or of a closed border have already been mooted by our neighbours to the north. This is not scaremongering. It is a statement of intent.
ARTICLE 50 PROCEDURE
In the event of a vote to exit, once the United Kingdom gives notice of its intention to leave, Gibraltar would be dragged behind London even if the vote here has gone differently. No Member State has left the European Union before. The exit provisions laid out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union have never been used.
The United Kingdom would lose its seat on the Council as soon as it notifies the EU of its intention to exit. However, it would remain in the European Union until the moment of departure. This means that if the negotiations take more than two years, as it is widely predicted, then the UK remains subject to EU law without a voice around the table for all that period of time. This is, in fact, the very scenario that those who want to leave the European Union have been complaining about. The irony is that it would be brought about by a vote to exit and not by a vote to remain.
So, the argument being made by the Vote Leave campaign that the UK would gain power and sovereignty back from Europe by leaving is the complete opposite of what would happen; Leaving Europe hands over power to Brussels. Only by remaining in Europe do we retain the right to have a say in how European law and the other crucial decisions that affect us are made. This is a point that needs to be stressed.
These are just the most basic reasons why Gibraltar – and the UK as a whole – is stronger in Europe. A vote to remain is the best way to ensure a bright future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. This is why we have all declared our wholehearted support for the Gibraltar Stronger In Europe campaign. I strongly urge anyone who is in any doubt as to how they should vote on the 23rd June to visit their premises at 190/192 Main Street and talk to their very well-informed team.
LOBBY CONTACTS IN THE UK
Just as important is for each and every one of us to act as ambassadors and make the case for a vote to remain and to talk to our friends and families about the importance of making the effort to vote on the 23rd June. It is particularly important to point out the dangers for Gibraltar to family and friends who live in the United Kingdom. We have used this network of contacts many times in the past to lobby successfully on different issues. The time has come to make use of it again.
The EU is not perfect, and nobody claims that it is. However, only a vote to remain will give us the historic opportunity to reform it. Whatever the result on the 23rd June, the weeks and months that will follow are sure to be filled with long and complex discussions between all EU member states in a reconsideration of what the future of the EU will look like. The package for EU reform agreed by Prime Minister David Cameron in February will serve as a catalyst.
Through your Government’s lobbying efforts in both London and Brussels, Gibraltar has been afforded the right to vote alongside the United Kingdom in this crucial referendum. The significance of this should not be underestimated and it is extremely important that Gibraltarians exercise this right to vote on the 23rd June. Our votes matter.
EVERY VOTE WILL COUNT
In order to put this into perspective, it will be recalled that in 2014 Sir Graham Watson did not secure re-election in to the European Parliament by some 5000 votes and that many more than 5000 of our electors here did not vote at all. We can make a difference in the right circumstances by turning up to vote.
Therefore while it is true that Gibraltar will only form a tiny percentage of the total UK votes, with the UK Opinion Polls showing that the result could swing either way, every vote matters. Perhaps more significantly, a high voter turnout in Gibraltar will leave no doubt as to how much the EU means to Gibraltar: it is embedded in our political, economic and cultural history and, no matter what side of the fence you may sit on, nobody can deny that this referendum will have serious consequences for our future.
An overwhelming Gibraltarian vote for the UK to remain in the EU, however, will give significant moral credibility to the case that a potential exit would be against our wishes as a political community. This would strengthen Gibraltar’s lobbying power in any post-referendum negotiations that will be conducted by the UK, either within a reformed EU or otherwise, and help us push for the terms and conditions that would preserve a solid, mutually-beneficial relationship with the EU as far as possible. David Cameron has, of course, been a good friend to Gibraltar in the past and, being British, we expect our rights and interests to be defended and preserved by the UK, regardless of our EU status.
OUR FUTURE LIES IN EUROPE
Over the next two months every Commonwealth and Irish citizen resident in the UK and Gibraltar, including Gibraltarians, will be weighing up the pros and cons of continued EU membership. My mind – and the minds of Gibraltar’s entire political and business community – has been made up; Gibraltar’s brightest future lies in the European Union.
Even in Gibraltar, however, a strong voter turnout and a majority vote to remain cannot and must not be taken for granted.
It is up to us all to check that our names are on the Register of Electors, to apply for a postal or proxy vote if needed, and to ensure that we exercise our right to vote on 23rd June. Only by exercising this right can we make Gibraltar’s voice heard loud and clear in London and Brussels.