by Robert Vasquez, QC
There is one matter that Gibraltar is and will be united about. It is that joint sovereignty, or any degree of Spanish sovereignty, is not desired and is unacceptable. We are the People that we are: that cannot be changed. We are born and brought up in Gibraltar with its British culture and systems. It is our nationality. It is what we are emotionally attached to. We have the Constitution that we have and the system of Parliamentary government that we have. Our status and feelings will not be changed by any argument, however sensibly or rationally made.
All that said, those few, if any, who might be wavering in their resolve in the face of recent pronouncement by Jose Margallo should fully understand the import and meaning of his proposals. He is a wolf in lambs clothing, who bears no gifts for Gibraltar. His proposals are laden with inbuilt traps. His message is simple. It is not aimed at Gibraltar. It is aimed at the Spanish constituents in the Campo de Gibraltar. He is laying the foundations so that any adverse effects on people in the Campo of events following BREXIT will be blamed on the intransigence of Gibraltarians, who, Spain will argue, will have turned down proposals that he has sold in the Campo as being highly reasonable: they are not.
First, his proposals are framed within Article 144(b) of the Spanish Constitution. This is an attempt to bring Gibraltar within the provisions of the Spanish Constitution that deal with Autonomous Communities. This proposal weighs any negotiation heavily in favour of Spain and against Gibraltar, because Autonomous Community status does not allow Gibraltar the level of parliamentary self-government and fiscal independence that we currently enjoy under the 2006 Constitution. He is not in a position, under the Spanish Constitution, to deliver on his promise that Gibraltar will maintain virtually the same level of self-government and financial independence as we enjoy today.
Then he suggests that joint sovereignty will allow Gibraltar continued membership of the EU. This is not so also. The current EU Treaty has no provision to permit this. Any such membership would need to be negotiated with the remaining members of the EU. It may require a treaty change, unless Spain became exclusively responsible for our external affairs, which is unacceptable and incompatible with the notion of joint sovereignty. This suggestion of EU membership for Gibraltar is not in his gift, therefore.
Furthermore, the offer of dual nationality is double-edged and dangerous in the extreme. Unless agreement is reached with the EU, as explained in the immediately preceding paragraph, Gibraltarians would be able to enjoy EU rights only by taking up Spanish nationality and thereby becoming EU nationals. In the unlikely event of enough Gibraltarians taking up Spanish nationality, in order to enjoy EU rights, this would create a Trojan horse, which Spain would be quick to exploit against our interests and the very concept of joint sovereignty.
Gibraltar has a clear course that it must steer in these very difficult and uncertain times. It is that we are in with the UK on the course that it will steer, once the BREXIT negotiations start. We need to guide that vessel, along with the devolved regions of the UK, to a destination that best suit our requirements. We must seek EU single market membership, single market access with the UK and fluidity at our frontier. We must seek, also, inclusion with the UK in trade deals to help our service industries to prosper.
All these goals are not for our benefit only but also for the benefit of those Spanish nationals who work in Gibraltar, for the Campo generally and its economy. We must project a message to the Campo of striving to do our best to retain the current economic wellbeing enjoyed, importantly, by them. This will help to counteract the propaganda embodied in Jose Margallo’s proposals.
Gibraltar should take a deep breath, steady itself and seek feasible and achievable results through measured and well thought out input to the UK as the situation develops. The Government should pursue the achievement of these results through continuing close contact and communication with the UK Government, who are making the right noises toward us. The recent pronouncement of our Chief Minister that we are engaged in a marathon and not a sprint hits the right note.
Finally, the Government should be open and frank about the possible economic consequences but it needs to be done carefully, so as not to arm Spain. It should take time to explain that we must prepare to tighten our belts and see this challenge through, putting to one side our culture of entitlement and promoting the looking after of the common good. The Government should persist with telling our neighbours in the Campo of the adverse economic consequences to them also that will result from any downturn in Gibraltar’s economy, whilst emphasising that it is in the power of their Government, the Spanish Government, to avoid these, as politicians of the Junta de Andalucía have grasped already.