Spain has been “on the wrong side of history” since 1967 because it refuses to accept that Gibraltarians have voted twice in peaceful, democratic referenda to remain British, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has told the United Nations.
Mr Picardo told the UN that Gibraltar wanted good relations with Spain and stood ready to strengthen cooperation for mutual benefit after Brexit.
But he insisted that sovereignty was not up for discussion and that Spain must accept that Gibraltarians have freely expressed their choice and will not change.
Mr Picardo’s statements were delivered against the backdrop of the crisis in Catalonia following Sunday’s vote on independence and scenes of police violence that have shocked the world.
But the Chief Minister, who has been careful not to be drawn publicly on what he has described as an internal matter for Spain, made no explicit reference to Catalonia and recent events.
It was clear, however, that the issue was very much on his mind as he finalised the text just hours before addressing diplomats at the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Mr Picardo dedicated his speech this year to Gibraltarians who voted in the 1967 referendum, a vote that Spain’s General Franco had described as illegal.
He said the “referendum generation” had courageously made its choice “abundantly clear” and, in doing so, had given birth to a modern and democratic European nation that was part of the British family.
“With just a ballot and a pencil, our people stood up to a bully’s threats to ruin them by siege,” Mr Picardo said.
“With just a single vote each, our people showed a dictator the raw power of democracy and fatally pierced the heart of the Spanish claim to our land.”
The Chief Minister told the UN that nothing had changed since then and that Gibraltar would make the same choice, perhaps even by a greater margin.
He reminded the Fourth Committee that Spain had also described the 2002 referendum as illegal, but that “there were no rules” that could have prevented Gibraltarians from expressing their voice and voting by 99% to remain British.
Mr Picardo, in a clear nod to recent events in Catalonia, noted that the UK had also opposed the 2002 referendum.
“Even then, there was no repression by the UK of our right to vote, no violence, no attempt to stop us from voting, no confiscation of ballots or ballot boxes,” he said.
“In 2002, Gibraltar stood alone [and] voted to remain British against the shameful policy of the then United Kingdom Government, which wanted to share the sovereignty of our nation with Spain.”
Gibraltar’s referenda had been held peacefully and with respect in keeping with British principles of respect for democracy and the rule of law.
Gibraltarians, Mr Picardo told the UN, respected each other and their neighbours, and abided by international laws and obligations.
He highlighted Gibraltar’s commitment to transparency on financial services and tax and said the Rock had signed exchange agreements with 104 countries around the world. Spain, he added, had refused a similar agreement with Gibraltar.
“The Spanish Government has been on the wrong side of history every time it comes to Gibraltar,” he said.
“Because the failure of democratic Spain has been the failure to respect our choice in 1967, a failure to respect our choice in 2002 and a failure to respect for our right to freely determine for ourselves the future of our land.”
Mr Picardo nonetheless welcomed the fact that Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, said Spain would not use Brexit to advance its sovereignty claim.
He welcomed too the Spanish minister’s acceptance that Spain’s co-sovereignty proposal could not be applied without the consent of the people of Gibraltar.
That position contrasted with the approach of Sr Dastis’ successor, Jose Manual García-Margallo, whose “threats” had only made Gibraltarians become more entrenched in their views and desire to remain British.
Mr Picardo said Gibraltarians had already rejected joint sovereignty in 2002 “and will continue to do so”, but added Gibraltar wanted a relationship with Spain based on “mutual respect” and for “mutual economic benefit” outside the EU.
“We continue to seek friendship from our Spanish neighbours and all our European partners,” he said.
“We are convinced that the way ahead is trade and friendship, co-operation and security, partnership and shared values.”
“And that is why we remain ready to work with the Government of Spain to cooperate on matters which will not compromise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.”
“Because such compromises we will never even discuss, let alone negotiate, neither in private nor in public.”
Reflecting on life after Brexit, the Chief Minister highlighted in particular the need for a fluid border and said many Gibraltarians had family, friends and loved ones on the other side of the border.
He said La Linea, like Gibraltar, had been a victim in the past of Madrid’s “all too frequent tantrums”.
But he added that, unlike a recent suggestion by Sr Dastis, it was not what they see in La Linea that turns Gibraltarians off Spain.
“It is what we see in Madrid that we do not like,” he said.
“We like it no more today than we did in 1967, or in 2002.”
“What we do like is our peaceful, Gibraltarian way of life.”
“We like our deep human relationships with neighbours north and south of us.”
“We like British respect for our right to choose, for our democracy and for the rule of law.”
“That is why we will never surrender our nation.”
“We will never surrender our right to choose.”
“We will never surrender our children’s right to our land.”