My dear fellow Gibraltarians, 2020 is finally over.
2021 has begun.
But the challenges have not gone away.
Despite the very difficult circumstances that we have endured in 2020, I hope you have all had a Merry Christmas with your closest families.
As ever, I hope our friends in the Jewish community had a Happy Hanukkah, our Hindu brethren a bright Diwali
and our Muslim community a blessed Eid.
Last year in my New Year’s message I predicted a year of challenges. I wasn’t wrong.
But even in my worst nightmares, I could not have begun to imagine just how steep those challenges were to become.
12 months ago we saw COVID begin to unfold in the Far East. Our Public Health authorities started to plan.
But I fully expected COVID to be a passing news story that would not affect us as it has.
On the 31st January I watched the European flag being lowered on the date of our legal departure from the EU.
Then my mind was focused primarily on the Brexit challenge ahead.
2020 should have been the year that would ONLY be remembered for Brexit.
But our departure from the EU almost faded into the back of our minds as we watched, almost powerless, as the virus spread.
In March, I chaired the toughest meetings of the Cabinet of my time in office.
We were called upon to make some of the toughest decisions we have ever made. But perhaps the hardest decision is also the one I am most grateful we took.
At that time we were right to lock down our beloved over-70 year olds.
I have hated every decision my Government has taken to curtail your constitutional freedoms. But I am certain that the actions we took in the first week of March last year SAVED LIVES. And in taking those difficult decisions, I reached out to the Opposition.
United, we faced those early COVID challenges together.
United as a people, we saw off the first wave and have staved off the worst – although we have lost 16 of our people to this deadly disease.
United, we did and are doing COVID right.
But being locked down, no matter how necessary, is difficult for all of us. It takes a toll on mental health and on our businesses.
And above all, it separates us from our loved ones.
So, I want to thank every single one of you for your effort in staying at home and complying with the COVID regulations.
Mercifully, we can now think less about new COVID infections.
We can now think more about the hope of precious vaccine injections.
Because in that respect, 2021 brings us what we all know is the best kind of hope. A NEW HOPE
In the last few days we have received the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine.
These are already being administered to the community’s most vulnerable and to our frontline workers
And they will soon be available to all who want one.
I have already registered and will have the vaccine as soon as the GHA offers it to me. We are expecting more doses in coming weeks.
And these vaccines allow us to look past the pandemic this year.
They allow us to see a vision of our lives returning to normal during the course of this year.
And, by accepting appointments to be vaccinated, we will all be able to start to live with COVID in the background.
With that, 2021, and the NEW HOPE it brings, will allow us to start to move on.
To that end, and as you all know, my Government and I continued to work on securing a safe and positive deal for Gibraltar in the context of Britain’s departure from the EU.
As you all also know, the reality is that Spain always enjoyed a veto on the European side, on whether a trade deal between the UK and the EU would apply to Gibraltar.
That veto exists for all European Member states in relation to trade deals done by the EU.
It was against that backdrop that I led Gibraltar’s negotiating team to find solutions to our Brexit issues.
We were always clear about one thing.
No solution would be acceptable if it crossed our INDELIBLE red lines on sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.
We were supported every step of the way by our counterparts in the UK.
Even AFTER the negotiating teams had secured a wider EU/UK deal we kept negotiating and finessing our deal.
And I am very happy that we have been able to reach the in-principle agreement which we announced on New Year’s Eve.
I am very happy that the deal we have negotiated covers all the key issues for Gibraltar.
And I am certain that it does not cross a single one of Gibraltar’s red lines on sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.
We have clear legal advice on that.
And it is also the clear opinion of all members of the Cabinet.
Remember that includes the Deputy Chief Minister, Joseph Garcia, and of former Chief Minister Sir Joe Bossano.
Neither of them, or any other member of the Cabinet, can be considered to be soft on this issue.
And at every stage, we have briefed the Cabinet and the Opposition on the progress of the negotiations and provided copies of the draft texts.
At every stage, we have obtained Cabinet clearance to progress to the next step of the negotiations.
And at the final stage, before we declared our ‘in-principle agreement’ the Cabinet met to give the go-ahead.
So please know that you can rest assured that there will be no consequences for sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.
Let’s be clear:
Spain’s sovereignty claim in respect of Gibraltar has been specifically off the table in all discussions relating to the deal we announced on New Year’s Eve.
The agreement is also specifically without prejudice to the issue of sovereignty and it is NOT legally binding.
The Treaty will be legally binding and it will be with the EU, that has no sovereignty claim on Gibraltar.
All aspects of the activity on immigration will occur ONLY as a result of REVERSIBLE permission to be granted by the UK and Gibraltar in the Treaty to be finalised.
We will be able to undo the Treaty, which is also a demonstration of sovereignty. This is an assertion of our sovereignty.
Indeed, whatever the agreement or Treaty may provide for, no officer of FRONTEX will be able to operate in Gibraltar other than under permission to be provided by an Act of Parliament in Gibraltar.
And no law enforcement agent of Spain will be permitted by Gibraltar law to have any executive or other jurisdiction in Gibraltar.
I will never bring a law to the Parliament to permit that.
And on VISAS, the position is exactly as it is now.
The Member States of Schengen, which include Spain, will be competent in issuing VISAS for Schengen where entry is through Gibraltar, as is the case in respect of all the other entry points to Schengen.
But only Gibraltar will be competent to grant VISAS for entry into Gibraltar.
And entry into Gibraltar will remain our exclusive competence and will be the primary key to access Gibraltar or to access Schengen through Gibraltar.
That primary key will be exercised by us through the Gibraltar Borders and Coastguard Agency which will become the lead agency to control all access via Gibraltar.
I believe that the men and women of our BCA will do us proud in implementation of our Treaty obligtions if we are able to finalise it.
We have done the right in-principle deal for Gibraltar.
It is a deal which respects every one of our red lines on sovereignty, jurisdiction and control. It is a deal which respects our wishes as a people to enjoy enhanced mobility.
But it is a deal which still needs to be translated into the text of a European Treaty between the EU and the UK.
We still have to do that work this year.
But I am proud of the very important and very significant advantages we have secured for Gibraltar so far.
We have not suffered the worst effects of Brexit because we have been able to reach this agreement which is safe on the fundamental issues that concern us.
And I look forward to considering this agreement in Parliament later this week. All in all, I believe you will agree that WE DID BREXIT RIGHT.
And both Brexit and COVID have economic consequences. We cannot shy away from that.
Every country in the world is suffering considerably as a result of the pandemic.
In Gibraltar, we have closed down our businesses and that has the effect of reducing Government revenue dramatically.
Additionally, we have been paying for the employees of the businesses we have closed down and supporting the entrepreneurs.
This has added huge cost to our bottom line.
But it is the only way we can ensure we will be ready for the recovery to come.
When COVID is over, though, we have to realise that the WHOLE WORLD is emerging into a new financial reality.
We will be working to ensure that Gibraltar’s public finances are stable and on a strong footing. The first part of this year will also require the negotiation of the UK/EU Treaty on Gibraltar.
It will also be the time to cast a new Budget as we emerge from this 24 month financial year at the end of March.
We have been able to withstand and finance the cost of the pandemic.
The sovereign guarantee of £500m from the UK will make it easier to finance aspects of it also. But we must be more careful and diligent than ever in how we cast future spending.
I have therefore asked Sir Joe Bossano to take on additional Ministerial responsibility for financial stability.
This will mean that Joe will be working with me on the long term stability of the public finances and helping with the casting of future Budgets.
In a post COVID, post BREXIT world, this is the only way we will be able to assure the political security of Gibraltar and its economic and financial stability.
I therefore expect everyone will support us in this endeavour.
Our manifesto was written to be delivered despite Brexit, but not despite COVID.
So it is important that we confirm that we will do what we can and what we need to do from that manifesto.
But I want to be clear with you now that we will not do all the things that we set out to do. It will just not be possible in this post COVID financial world.
The economic and financial stability of Gibraltar MUST come first.
I am very proud of all that we have managed to achieve for Gibraltar during 2020, despite how difficult a year it has been.
But I would be lying if I pretended that we had got everything right. We are not infallible and we do not pretend to get everything right. I think we have got the response to COVID and BREXIT right.
But one of the things I think we got wrong was Line Wall Road. I believe we misread the feeling of the community on that issue.
But as soon as traffic began to return to normal after the first lock down, the community’s continued reliance on Line Wall Road as an artery was clear.
It is right that we should acknowledge that we were wrong about that.
Because I am elected as your servant and I promised you at every election that we would repay your support with humility and not with arrogance.
And for that reason we have completely stopped that project.
And so it is with hope above everything else that we embark on the rest of 2021. That NEW HOPE I spoke of earlier.
Hope that we can start to leave behind this terrible pandemic. Hope that we can avoid the loss of any more precious lives.
And the hope that we can together go forward into a new, much brighter, post-pandemic and post- Brexit world.
A world in which we will be closer than ever to Britain. With the right to passport our services into the UK. And as part of the UK’s new trade deals with the world. And yet with an enduring connection with the EU.
Securing our right to unhindered mobility and seeking new arrangements to trade in goods.
My dear fellow Gibraltarians,
I cannot pretend the hard times are over yet.
But they will be.
As we grow as a nation, we face new challenges.
Yet behind each of those challenges lies the door to each one of the opportunities we owe it to our children to explore.
I know that you will join me this year as every year in working to create the best Gibraltar we can imagine.
Because you know that our future is not paved with the comfortable road of the memories of the past.
Nostalgia for the times we have lived will not prepare us for the times that are yet to come. Our past is who we are.
But only we will shape our future.
And we will do so in a way that entirely honours the sacrifices of our fore-fathers. That is why we will never give up the things that they defended.
It is why we now successfully put another hard year behind us. It is why we face hard challenges ahead of us with courage.
United, as ever, as we face those challenges together. That is how we know that we will succeed.
This year as last year, for as long as I am Chief Minister, and for as long as there is breath in my lungs,
I will continue defending Gibraltar. Because Gibraltar is our home.
It is our children’s home.
The sacred ground in which our forefathers lie.
Gibraltar belongs to the Gibraltarians, and so it will always be.
And this year, like last year and every year, the protection of our homeland is what will guide every step we take and every decision I make.
On behalf of Justine, Sebastian, Oliver and Valentina, I wish you and your families a HEALTHY, HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS 2021.
Thank you for all your work and effort last year.
Thank you for all the work and effort in this year to come. Thank you very much for listening.