Prime Minister Theresa May has said the United Kingdom will stand by Gibraltar for as long as Gibraltarians wish to remain British, reaffirming the double lock sovereignty commitment as the Rock celebrated a historic National Day yesterday.
In a recorded message to the people of Gibraltar broadcast as part of the National Day celebrations, Mrs May underscored the UK’s double lock commitment on sovereignty and reflected on the “pivotal” referendum of 1967.
“On that day you made a choice, voting almost unanimously to remain British, and it is right that we celebrate that choice today 50 years on at a time when Gibraltar and the UK are closer than ever before,” she said.
“As the UK negotiates to leave the European Union, Gibraltar will be fully involved.”
“As we face the opportunities and challenges to come, the UK will continue to stand firmly beside you.”
“We will resolutely safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy and Gibraltar will remain British for as long as it chooses to do so,” Mrs May said to applause.
“So let us go forward together and seek to build a prosperous future for our whole UK family.”
Casemates Square was once again a sea of red and white as over 3,000 people, according to the Royal Gibraltar Police, packed in to hear the traditional SDGG political rally as the day took on even greater significance on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.
The crowd was again treated to a series of spectacles to round off the rally, ranging from blasts of confetti, fireworks, blasts of red and white smoke and the helicopter drop of petals.
Taking to the stage, the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was met with warm applause as he thanked Mrs May for her message of support on National Day.
“When she became Prime Minister, Mrs May told me that she would be a champion of Gibraltar’s rights,” he said.
“She has stood up for Gibraltar when she has had to.”
“She has committed herself and her Government to defending our sovereignty and our economy.”
“And she has not let us down,” Mr Picardo said.
And although Mrs May could not be in Gibraltar in person, the UK reinforced its message of support for the Rock with a visit by the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Alan Duncan.
The presence of Sir Alan on stage, where he joined a sizeable cross-party contingent of MPs from the House of Commons and MEPs here to show their support for Gibraltar, sent a strong message and provided an “extra layer of reassurance” as Brexit looms.
While this is the UK Minister’s first official visit to Gibraltar he does in fact hold a strong association with the Rock.
“I lived here for two years as a child when my father was the commanding officer of the RAF’s 224 squadron in the early 60s,” he said to rapturous applause as he addressed the throngs of spectators.
“It is a place that holds deeply fond memories for me,” he added, as he reflected on how Gibraltar has prospered over the last 50 years.
In an interview with the Chronicle following the rally Sir Alan reminisced on his childhood in Gibraltar spent fishing for mullet off his little raft with flour and water at the end of a hook as bait.
“We lived on Western Beach, Western Beach House, and I went back to have a look at it yesterday,” he said.
“I remember running up and down the beach and going up and having a laugh with the apes on top of the Rock, swimming in the military pool…”
“I dug out some old photographs and gave them to the Chief Minister,” he added.
It was very special to return to Gibraltar, 50 years on from their vote to stay in the British family. Here's to the next 50 years! pic.twitter.com/j95WSd3NkT
— Sir Alan Duncan MP (@AlanDuncanMP) September 11, 2017
His younger brother was also born in Gibraltar during the two years his father was stationed here and so too was his husband.
Sir Alan is deeply involved in the UK’s discussions with Gibraltar on Brexit and sits on the Joint Ministerial Committee that brings together the two governments.
“The Chief Minister and his team are fully involved in that process, it’s quite early days but what’s absolutely clear to us is that they must be fully involved and their interests must be fully protected,” he said, flagging the importance of free movement of goods, services and people across the border.
Sir Alan further affirmed that the UK would not agree to any deal that does not safeguard the “agreed interests” of Gibraltar.
Asked what the strength of feeling was for Gibraltar within the UK Government, he said: “It’s very simple, we believe in the rule of law and the rule of law says that if Gibraltar wishes to remain British then they will remain British.”
“It’s two-fold, it’s a basic rule which we stick with but also it’s what we feel about it and we’re very supportive and so we are enthusiastic about that rule of determining your own future as you choose.”
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum was, of course, at the forefront of the day.
Mr Picardo said this National Day was about celebrating the “generation that gave birth to the Gibraltarian Nation.”
“Exactly 50 years ago today they were marching into the polling stations. With no more than pencils and ballot papers. With only the weapons of democracy in their hands. With the power of the ballot box,” he told the crowds.
“The referendum generation wrote for themselves the modern history of the Gibraltarian. With 12,138 carbon marks on a ballot paper.”
And he told them: “You defied a dictator. You defeated fascism. Your pierced the heart of the fascist claim to our home. You gave birth to a nation.”
“The referendum generation delivered the Gibraltarian nation into the world,” Mr Picardo added.
Reflecting on the significance of this year’s National Day, Chairman of the SDGG Richard Buttigieg told the Chronicle: “Obviously all our National Days are important for us because it’s a unique opportunity to show the world who we are as a people and what we want and to voice our desire for self-determination.”
“But, today in particular I think was important because we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the referendum and we have had Sir Alan Duncan coming over from the UK, a very senior State Minister, which is important to have amongst us and through the lobbying efforts of many party’s and through our friends in parliament on any side of the House we have managed to get the Prime Minister to once again deliver a speech on National Day.”
Mr Buttigieg also praised Mrs May’s speech particularly for the assurances she gave and said she had been “quite bold in political and diplomatic terms”.