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Your territory needs you!

After the General Election in the UK this year there may well be an in/out vote on membership of the EU. Dominique Searle, editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle, is somewhat in favour of “in”

By New Statesman

Europe, in or out? This is the stark choice that could face British people within a couple of years if the Conservatives win the next General Election. Of course the Rock knows it is a low priority issue for the average follower in the debate.

Worse still, some of our staunchest supporters in UK are hell-bent on an EU exit.

UKIP, Tory backbenchers are hugely supportive of us as a territory – but not on the single most important issue facing us, and possibly Europe, for 30 years.

Lobbying is our strongest tool.

It’s likely that the 20,000 strong electorate on the Rock will be included in that referendum, if only because we are included in the South West region constituency for EU elections. A right earned by taking Britain to the European Court of Human Rights and winning.

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The bigger picture shows that the European project, born of post WWII needs for economic and political cohesion between the old countries, is not something any Europeans should run away from for short-term gains. Gibraltar is a blip in all this but our history illustrates how difficult it is for much of Europe progress socially, democratically and positively especially in times of economic stress.

It’s not just that we hear Spain still raising the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht as if this supersedes the treaties of the EU and modern international rights. For the past 10 years the EU has been unable to address the United Nations Fourth Committee on the issue of decolonisation because it cannot agree wording with UK and Spain.

If they can’t be friends over little Gibraltar what hope for the big issues. History haunts the EU and can make it impotent unless old scores are sets aside for the bigger objective of finding a relationship between the states that is seen by citizens as less destructive.

The Gibraltar Government has commissioned a team of Oxford dons to consider the financial implications of a UK exit and also the implications of a variation of Gibraltar’s status in the EU. That won’t carry much good news.

As part of the EU, Gibraltar is in a radically different position to other British Overseas Territories. And that is not just because of bugbear Spain.

The EU has been good for the Rock. We lead on compliance as a finance centre largely because the EU forced standards to rise and the old tax haven system to go. This is why Gibraltar would be happy to sign up to the cutting edge agreements for financial services asking only that other territories be reigned in.

Why would Gibraltar sign up to standards that have not yet been accepted all EU members or G20 participants?

The Rock seeks only a level playing field so that EU obligations can be balanced with normal commercial and political activity.

As far back as the 1980s when Sir Joshua Hassan led the Rock it was to the EU that we looked for an eventual ‘dissolving’ of the Gibraltar dispute.

Yes, an EU exit will hurt us. But Spain should not relish the thought of losing the UK as a partner. Nor would closing the border or strangling the economy necessarily be wise.

Morocco keenly mirrors Spain’s tactics on Gibraltar in relation to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Aside from that, the effect of closing the border would be predictable.

As in 1969 Gibraltarians would regrow their siege shell and tighten their belts, many younger locals would simply move to Britain and UK would be obliged to spend more on defence and diplomacy to keep the Rock ticking. Depressing, but not surrender.

Far from becoming the ripe fruit that Franco once predicted would fall into Spain’s hand, the Rock would become a symbol of Britain’s mistaken decision to abandon the unity the EU strives to be on issues great and small.

As Europeans must work together to defend the social, cultural and economic values that still make us a family. Maybe, just maybe, a new and modern Spain might just accept a place for us in that better Europe. Please vote to stay in.