by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo
When the issue of a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU was first mooted, I asked David Cameron and David Lidington to ensure we would be able to vote with the rest of the UK. Both agreed. True to their words, when the vote was called, British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in Gibraltar were included in the franchise.
Now the coming weeks are going to move very quickly as we rollercoaster our way towards the vote on June 23rd.
Alongside the dates of our other, historic, referenda, that will be one of the most important days in our modern history.
The referendum to decide whether we remain in the European or leave it will be a defining moment for Gibraltar’s future and indeed that of the United Kingdom.
I, along with the all the elected political party leaders, am asking you to go out and vote “REMAIN”.
Gibraltar is not often politically united.
You should realise the seminal importance of this vote given your politicians’ unprecedented unity on this subject which is not directly a sovereignty question.
Some of you may feel your politicians argue too much. Maybe. But the reasons we are firmly united on this occasion have at their heart the preservation of our country’s many achievements over the past three decades.
I therefore call on you to work with me and your other political and civic leaders to make sure that family and friends also use their vote to REMAIN in the EU. For anyone who will be away or unable to attend a polling station, make sure you or they organise their proxy votes.
GIB STRONGER IN
Your MPs, representing the entire Gibraltar Parliament will be joined by other representatives of civil society, trade unions, commerce and many others in giving whole hearted support to Gibraltar Stronger in Europe campaign.
In the very capable hands of Gemma Vasquez and her team, I know Gibraltarians will give the “Gibraltar Stronger In” group every support.
Voting at this referendum is as important as any referendum we have held in Gibraltar.
Leaving the EU will not destroy us. Nothing can.
Despite the headlines, Gibraltar has seen through many sieges and battles, challenges and often turned these into opportunities.
Like on every occasion when we have been written off, we would endure and we would succeed.
Of that I have no doubt at all.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE
But why break something that works relatively well?
Why exit a growing, expanding trading block that has delivered the prosperity that we enjoy today?
Why move from the certainty of our status today to the unknown of the status we could have once the UK renegotiates it’s relationship as a non-member of the EU.
Why would 30,000 people want to exclude themselves from a trading block of 520m people that will soon also have a free trade agreement with the 400m people in the USA?
The only thing that is clear is that leaving the EU will certainly create unnecessary uncertainty.
Yes, there are always winners and losers with major change. But in terms of Gibraltar we are agreed, across the political, commercial and trades union spectrum, that the losses with a leave vote far outweigh any benefits.
The many ‘ifs’ that a leave vote creates – such as what happens at our frontier, what happens to financial services in the City of London, would Scotland once again seek independence etc – are simply the source of more uncertainty.
Nothing has ever been easy for Gibraltar.
Successive Chief Ministers have had to battle on many fronts – Spain, the EU and even sometimes the UK itself – to arrive at a Gibraltar that was strong enough to ride the many storms we have endured and to live in relative prosperity.
We have seen though joint-sovereignty attempts, global economic upheaval and twisted Spanish diplomacy chomping at our doorstep.
We won our right to vote at EU elections in the Court of Human Rights in a case against the UK.
We have won and prevailed against countless EU Commission moves in areas such as tax and defended our highly reputable finance centre and our highly regulated gaming industry and both are now therefore highly regarded.
We have won EU passporting rights crucial to the financial industries.
By remaining in the EU we keep our successes and battle on.
If we leave we will need to go back to the drawing board in some of the hard fought areas and we will rely on each successive UK government not sacrificing us to the expediency of its own political, economic and commercial interests and needs.
Spain’s caretaker Foreign Minister is already excited at the thought of gaining leverage to pursue his personal sovereignty campaign against us.
Well, whatever the outcome of the referendum let me be very clear: we will never surrender to pressure from Spain. Gibraltar will always remain ours.
Gibraltar belongs to the British Gibraltarians and that is not going to change.
Gibraltar will, of course, live to fight another day and we will survive whatever the challenge that comes before us. Your government is ready for the hard work that rebuilding a new economic model for the future will entail. We have been working on the options for some time.
FOR OUR CHILDREN
But why put ourselves and our children through all that uncertainty and subject to new potential pitfalls?
If the best part of our 23,000 eligible voters choose REMAIN, the significance of that unity will go far beyond there being at least a slim chance that we tip the balance.
Whatever the outcome of the overall referendum, Gibraltar must signal to UK, the EU and the world the direction we want to take: free movement of people, capital, goods and services, the right to trade freely with UK, with Europe and the world. Britain, as much as the rest of Europe and the World, need to hear from us what we expect of it.
Our message must be united and clear.
A huge Gibraltar vote to REMAIN is the only option that will get that message across.
The EU is far from perfect. But voting to REMAIN in it is the right choice for Gibraltar.