Last year I had the privilege of representing Gibraltar in delegations at EU and UN level. I was able to experience the international diplomacy that the Rock has been engaging in for the purpose of commerce, lobbying and, above all, utilizing our right to defend our political wishes – not just regarding the defence of British sovereignty over Gibraltar versus Spain but also because there is a consensus that a ‘Brexit’ would virtually bring Gibraltar to its knees.
I follow British politics far closer than I do Spanish politics. I was certainly not the only one with a keen eye on the developments in the May election, as Gibraltarians know that the governing parties in the UK have not always lived up to our expectations. Gibraltarians are growing weary of empty ‘robust’ rhetoric from the Foreign and Commonwealth office and would appreciate a more proactive UK government.
Gibraltarians were not particularly pleased with the UK Labour Party during its last spell in Government – especially under Blair. New Labour’s attitude to Gibraltar effectively ignored its democratic freedoms and attempted to seek a joint sovereignty solution whereby the Rock would be half-owned by the Spanish state, this is known as the infamous ‘Andorra Solution’. This started the new millennium on the wrong foot with regards to Gibraltar’s relationship with Straw, Hain and Blair. Locally they are considered as traitors for trying to ‘sell us down the river’.
Folliwing this the general feeling seems to be that Gibraltar is safer under a Conservative government in the UK, though in 2014’s EU election result, Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly for the UK Liberal Democrats; this is in great part thanks to the dedication of Sir Graham Watson to Gibraltar’s cause. Despite this, no Liberal Democrat represents Gibraltar at EU level because it is part of the South West region of the UK who voted in a different range of politicians.
I predicted last week that we will see a government that is, in some form or other, Labour-led. In any case, the Rock would stand strong against any falsehoods or hints of indifference towards her sea and land. The general consensus in Gibraltar is that Cameron’s Conservative Government will protect Gibraltar’s interests, whereas a Labour government would have had a lot to make up for to the Gibraltarian people.
My prediction was fatally wrong. I was not the only one. Pre-election polls and UK journalists predicted that we would see a hung parliament and possibly a Labour minority Government – with the aid of the SNP bloc. Speaking to locals in Gibraltar, you will find a sense of relief regarding this election. Despite Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, telling the Gibraltar Chronicle that Gibraltar would not see a repetition of the so-called treachery that occurred during the previous Labour Government, there is a feeling that ‘there is something of the night’ about Labour’s attitude to us.
There are still some concerns. Albert Poggio, Gibraltar’s Representative in London, says ‘we’ve lost 12 of our friends in Parliament’. Brian Reyes from the Gibraltar Chronicle acknowledged this and stated that: ‘Gibraltar’s support base was dented in Thursday’s election’. A more perilous issue is that of the promised EU referendum by 2017, which is widely accepted to have potentially disastrous consequences for Gibraltar in the result of an ‘OUT’ vote – arguably one of the only qualms about the election of a majority Conservative Government, but it has the ability to diminish confidence in the Tories and pose a threat to the economic and diplomatic survival as Gibraltar as we know it. For this reason, the position that Gibraltar would ‘sleep easier’ with Labour is just about understandable. In fact, the esteemed Dr. Grocott of the University of Leicester has argued that, ‘for all of Labour’s baggage’, a Labour victory would have been the better outcome.
I would disagree with Grocott’s assessment and contend that Gibraltar can be happy with a Conservative Government. Gibraltar has been part of the European trade bloc for as long as the UK, thanks to Edward Heath’s successful negotiation in 1973. Perhaps I can be accused of youthful idealism or naivety, but I just don’t see a Brexit coming. It seems to be a non sequitur that Britain can thrive outside of the EU and I can’t see it happening. I will take reassurance in the dismal failure of UKIP in this election and in the apparent minority group of anti-Europeans in the House of Commons and the British public. I know that whatever happens, Gibraltar will do her all to keep its ties with the EU.
Mark Montegriffo has a blog at www.yourgibraltartv.com. His latest piece was a precursor to this piece for the New Statesman.