Brexit must not be allowed to become a rallying call for extremists, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said this week as he called for “tolerance, respect, dialogue” in the face the challenges posed by Gibraltar’s departure from the EU.
Mr Picardo was addressing guests at an event in Los Barrios on Tuesday night organised by the cross-border cultural association Mar del Sur, which has named him an honorary member.
Mr Picardo was referring broadly to the entrenched positions in the different Brexit political camps which have so far made it impossible to reach consensus on how best to progress with the UK’s – and by extension Gibraltar’s – withdrawal from the bloc.
But his words resonated in the Campo too, particularly following the result of the recent Andalusian regional election which replaced a Socialist regional government with a coalition of right-wing parties.
Hours before the speech in Los Barrios, the Algeciras branch of the Spanish far right party Vox published on its Facebook page a venomous attack on the Chief Minister and Gibraltar, describing the Mar del Sur event as an “act of disloyalty and a felony”.
“We must all guard against Brexit being used as an excuse to encourage extremists or build barriers,” Mr Picardo told guests.
“We all have the responsibility to avoid creating tension and instead cooperate more.”
During a short speech, the Chief Minister praised the association’s work over many years and highlighted ongoing efforts to build closer economic and social links between communities on both sides of the border.
Mr Picardo reflected on Brexit and the complex withdrawal negotiations over the past year, telling guests that Gibraltar’s exit from the EU did not mean it was turning its back on Europe and its closest European neighbour.
He urged “dialogue and good will” in order to tackle the practical challenges posed by Brexit and protect the interests of citizens on both sides of the border.
“What I don’t understand is why we have to talk about having the power of vetoes over each other, on an issue that all of us here know is positive and potentially economically constructive for the region,” Mr Picardo said.
“I don’t understand why it’s necessary to talk of vetoes instead of cooperation.”
“I suppose it’s easier politically and I recognise that sometimes, when I respond, I too opt for language that is politically easy.”
“I’m a politician and a sinner in that respect.”
“But both sides would have greater mutual benefits for the shared future of our citizens if we spoke less about how we are going to veto each other, and more about how we are going to cooperate.”
Yesterday Mr Picardo flew to London accompanied by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia for another round of meetings on Brexit. Also in the delegation were Attorney General Michael Llamas and Financial Secretary Albert Mena.
“The Joint Ministerial Council for Gibraltar EU Exit negotiations will meet today in formal session with ministers and officials of the Gibraltar and United Kingdom governments,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“There will be separate meetings with senior parliamentarians during the course of the visit.”
In the absence of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister until Friday, the Minister for Education and the Environment Dr John Cortes will act as Chief Minister.