By Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
National Day, which I was delighted to be able to attend, represented an important and pivotal moment in Gibraltar’s history. 50 years ago yesterday; the people of Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly (over 99%) to remain part of the UK family. Gibraltar has been British for over 300 years, and will be so for as long as you, the people of Gibraltar, want it to be. Each National Day you gather together to celebrate, re-affirming your wish to maintain the link with the UK and reinforcing our strong connection. I travelled here to celebrate the occasion with you and to assure you that our support remains steadfast. As you know, the Prime Minister also sent a message to express her best wishes and support.
I’m a frequent visitor to Gibraltar; regularly coming back to remember the days I spent on Western beach as a child when my RAF father was the Commanding Officer. I will never forget the spirit and determination that drove your community and helped Gibraltar flourish, making it a wonderful place to grow up. Added to that, both my brother and husband were born in Gibraltar. It’s no surprise that it’s a place that holds fond memories for me.
It is also a place that has come a long way in the 50 years since the referendum, and Gibraltar should rightly be proud of the flourishing economy you have built, one which boasts the fourth highest GDP per capita and the second lowest unemployment rate in the world. Around 10 million tourists visit each year, adding jobs and security on top of those provided by Gibraltar’s financial services and maritime industries. The success and prosperity that we see today is the product of your Gibraltarian determination and spirit to succeed.
I cannot stress enough the UK Government’s commitment to safeguarding Gibraltar, its people and its economy. You chose to remain part of the UK family in 1967 and we will continue to uphold your wishes from that historic day, and which you have reaffirmed since, for as long as you wish us to do so. Gibraltar’s strong economy gives it a solid foundation to build upon in the future, and I know for a fact that the Gibraltarian spirit, and the close UK-Gibraltar relationship, will mean that we will face the EU exit negotiations constructively and together.
But as we reflect on this significant milestone in Gibraltar’s proud history, we must pause and pray for the people in the Caribbean affected by Hurricane Irma, particularly the British nationals in the overseas territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos. The most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Atlantic has devastated buildings and infrastructure and done irreparable damage to families and communities. This Government has acted swiftly to help those affected by the disaster and will continue to provide whatever financial and humanitarian assistance is needed. And we are grateful to Gibraltar for hosting HMS Ocean as it makes her way to the Caribbean and for the generous donation of vitally needed equipment and supplies that she will deliver.
For we are one UK family. Distance does not lessen our joy at your success, it does not weaken our support for your endeavours and it does not dim our desire to help in times of need.
Leaving the European Union does not mean turning our back on Europe. Indeed, we want our exit to be the start of a new deep and special partnership with Europe. For Gibraltar, cross-border commercial and cultural relationships remain crucial to its success. That’s why we will continue to work together so that your priorities are fully taken into account, to ensure we get the best deal for the UK and Gibraltar.
As part of the preamble to the 1969 constitution, the UK made a promise never to allow the people of Gibraltar to pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes, and we have built on that undertaking since, committing not to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. The Prime Minister reaffirmed that commitment in her video message for Gibraltar National Day.
The UK and Gibraltar have a deep and vibrant history, and we also have a long and prosperous future ahead of us. Our co-operative relationship will help us as we leave the EU, and ensure we all continue to thrive beyond it.