by Brian Reyes in London
Brexit has strengthened links between the Gibraltar and UK governments, transforming the “reviled faceless mandarins” of the past into “strong collaborators” and supporters, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told a top-level reception in London on Monday night.
Speaking to an audience of UK ministers and senior officials, British politicians, ambassadors and business representatives, the Chief Minister said the newfound relationship had enabled “quiet diplomacy” in the face of the Brexit challenge, and was one of the few positive things to stem from the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
“If the result of the referendum has had any silver linings, however thin, it is that Brexit has brought Gibraltar and the United Kingdom even closer together,” Mr Picardo said.
The Chief Minister highlighted the Brexit-related work done by officials from various UK ministries and departments – the Foreign Office, the Department for Exiting the EU, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, among others – alongside counterparts from the Gibraltar Government.
Officials from all those departments were present at the reception, which was held in the top floor of London’s iconic Gherkin building in the heart of the capital’s financial district.
“They have been our partners in quiet diplomacy,” Mr Picardo said.
“A spirit of co-operation, honesty, challenge and determination has opened a new level for the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Rock.”
“It has genuinely, in my view, been the only positive to come out of Brexit.”
The Chief Minister was optimistic about recent developments in respect of the Gibraltar protocol and associated memorandums, even while striking a note of caution given the continued uncertainty about prospects for a wider UK/EU withdrawal agreement.
He underlined too the agreements reached between Gibraltar and the UK Government to guarantee continued UK market access for Gibraltar-based companies, as well strengthened links in areas such as education and health.
And he echoed the words of UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had recorded a video message on Monday in which he said that the political, economic, commercial and social links between Gibraltar and the UK were “more important than ever”.
“We have been made to feel a part of the British family of nations,” Mr Picardo said.
“And in particular, we have been made to feel a respected and welcome part of the British family of nations.”
“The faceless mandarins of old, that were so reviled in Gibraltar, have been transformed into the friends, supporters and strong collaborators of today.”
Mr Picardo reflected too on next year’s 50th anniversary of the border closure and the dictator General Franco’s decision to “put the heartless weight of fascism” on communities on either side of the border.
But he expressed confidence that the Brexit negotiations would lay the foundations for better cross-border relations that would generate prosperity on both sides of the border.
“Our hands of friendship will always be there to ensure that never again will we ever see barriers going up between us and our friends and families in the area around us,” he said.
“On the contrary, we can achieve much through genuine co-operation, we can create even greater prosperity for us and all the region around us.”
“And that is why we want to be ambitious in our approach to the future.”
“We want to look at opportunities for even greater fluidity across the frontier in the future than we have had in the past.”
“Because this is a time of flux, [but] it is also a time to be optimistic and ambitious, it is time to be bold and positive.”
Guests at the reception also heard from Brexit minister Robin Walker, who chairs the Joint Ministerial Council on Gibraltar and has played a central role in negotiations relating to the Rock’s future outside the EU.
He too underlined the UK’s commitments to ensuring continued market access for Gibraltar-based companies, highlighting the Rock’s “world leading” role in sectors such as gaming.
“We want to see Gibraltar succeed and to thrive, and stand ready to help Gibraltar build on these successes and ensure its continued prosperity into the future,” he said.
He echoed the words of Prime Minister Theresa May, who on Monday afternoon told the House of Commons that the Gibraltar protocol heralded “a new era” in relations with Spain, adding that the UK would continue to work closely with Gibraltar to ensure a positive outcome to the remaining negotiations.
Mr Walker added too that this close relationship would be reflected as the UK negotiated future trade deals outside the EU, with a mechanism put in place to ensure Gibraltar was consulted as new agreements were reached with countries around the globe.
And, as is now routine, he repeated the UK’s double-lock sovereignty commitment to the people of Gibraltar, something he has done on three consecutive Gibraltar Day in London events.
“Simply put, Gibraltar will remain British for as long as the people of Gibraltar want it to,” he said.
And he added: “Let me reiterate this government’s commitment to a strong partnership with Gibraltar, to a prosperous and thriving relationship that will only grow stronger in the future.”
“The commitment to Gibraltar’s success story is as strong as ever.”