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Speech by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP at the Club Siglo XXI in Madrid - 497/2021

June 29, 2021


Good morning, everyone.

First of all, congratulations to the Spanish national football team for qualifying for the quarter finals of the European Championship.

It was a magnificent evening of European football last night.

I hope that one day it will be possible for the Spanish national team to play against Gibraltar, without that seeming anything but an ordinary event.

A good game of football between a Goliath and a David of football.


My thanks, first of all, to the British Ambassador, my great friend Hugh Elliott, for doing me the honour of introducing me this morning to such an illustrious audience.

And with words that I think will cost me later!

What is true is that both Hugh and his predecessor, Simon [Manley], have been and are great friends, both personally and of Gibraltar’s.

I also thank the Ambassador for his friendship and his work for Gibraltar here in the Spanish capital.

He has faced difficult times here and has successfully dealt with the worst of the pandemic and Brexit with humour, diplomatic skill and his clear intellect.


I would also like to add my thanks, of course, to the Club Siglo XXI for the opportunity to present the Gibraltarian point of view in this prestigious forum and at this important time.

You have already welcomed my two predecessors: Messrs Bossano and Caruana, both now Knights of the United Kingdom.

Sir Joe and Sir Peter already had the opportunity to present the ‘Llanito’ point of view to this club in their time.

Today I do so with the humility of being a successor to those two giants of the political life of the Rock.


This is a moment of historic opportunity.

That is why I am so grateful to be able to meet with you all this morning.

There is no doubt that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union was a setback for Gibraltar.

As you know, 96% of the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the Union.

We have a pro-European spirit.

We are geographically a part of the continent.

And we were strongly committed to remaining in the Union – with the full support of all political and social actors.

It was no small thing that - way back in 2016 - Canepa, Bossano, Caruana and Picardo - that is all the living Chief Ministers - joined with the trade unions, the Chamber of Commerce, representatives of small businesses, the Opposition and the current Government, which I lead, to call for a vote to remain in the Union.

But, however, there is one thing that draws us even closer, and that is our Britishness.

And so, of course, Gibraltar accepted the verdict of the majority of the British family.

We were leaving the European Union which had been the guarantee of our free access to the services market and of a border crossing with only a few formalities.

This, unsurprisingly, created uncertainty.

And it also created problems in relation to unexpected issues.

One of these was resolved only last week when Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to modernise our abortion law.

This issue used to go completely unnoticed, because if it wasn’t for Brexit, Gibraltarian women would travel to Spain in situations that required it.

But, after the Brexit referendum, we had to ask ourselves whether it would be possible in the future to cross the border with the same peace of mind.

And it was initially because of Brexit that the issue of abortion ended up at the centre of the Gibraltarian political debate.


The truth is that, from the outset, Spain insisted that the club of 27 other member states should seek Spanish approval for any arrangement that the European Union sought with the United Kingdom in relation to Gibraltar.

This would be reflected in the negotiating directives of the 27.

This came as no surprise to us in Gibraltar.

It had always been Spain’s attitude for as long as we were members of the club.

We could not expect anything different at this juncture of the UK’s withdrawal from the club.


What was an important change, however, was the dialogue-based position of the Spanish Foreign Ministry, from the moment Mr. Alfonso Dastis, a native of Jerez, arrived at the Palace of Santa Cruz.

I had met Alfonso Dastis, by pure coincidence, at the entrance of a London hotel.

It was in October 2017.

I proposed that we talk.

In February we started, in a discreet meeting, to inform each other of our respective positions.

Since then we noticed a qualitative change in the Spanish position.

Alfonso Dastis, as an Andalusian by origin, immediately understood that the path of confrontation would lead us to disagreement and to a negative outcome of the United Kingdom’s exit from the Union.

Mr Dastis spoke of resolving ‘irritants’.

We agreed with him - because we both considered aspects of the relationship to be ‘irritants’ and we were keen to resolve different issues.

And at a key moment for all the citizens of Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar we sought, successfully, to thaw the institutional relations between us.

At that time, Mr. Mariano Rajoy was still Prime Minister.

The PSOE’s ‘Motion of Censure’ had yet to manifest itself.

But even then, the posture of the man who, in the days after the Brexit referendum, announced that within four years the Spanish flag would fly over the Rock, no longer prevailed.

Those positions no longer dictated the sole objective of the policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Mr Marco Aguiriano, when he was Secretary of State for Europe, said it loud and clear in Parliament, before one of the Foreign Affairs Committees:

‘If we come with sovereignty issues, the British and the Gibraltarians will close their breifcases and walk out.’

And that is the reality.

My friend Marco was not wrong at all in his analysis.

There is another side to this coin, as shown by Minister González Laya last week, when, replying to the Parliamentary opposition, in the Congress of Deputies, she said that she would defend Spain’s claim to sovereignty ‘tooth and nail’.

That is why, from the Spanish government, the position of both the Popular Party and the Socialist Party has been identical in relation to sovereignty.


But when the change of government came, Josep Borrell, a friend from before his time as a Minister, understood on behalf of the PSOE, that the opportunities Gibraltar represents for the Campo could not be taken advantage of if the Rock were to leave the Union without an agreement.

Josep also understood that a hard Brexit for Gibraltar would have been very bad not only for the Gibraltarians, but for all the inhabitants of the Campo de Gibraltar area.


And Minister Laya continued to be positive about Gibraltar’s future relationship with the Union, and in particular with Spain.

She understood, as an international trade professional, that the path of dialogue and understanding presents us with unprecedented opportunities for a future potential of shared prosperity unparalleled anywhere in the world.

I had already suggested in the second week of January 2020 - it seems like a decade has passed since those pre-pandemic moments - that Gibraltar could be part of, or have an agreement with, the Schengen area.

In that week Arancha González Laya arrived at the Palace of Santa Cruz.

Only a month later, in an interview in the Financial Times, she accepted that Gibraltar’s entry into the Schengen zone, or a relationship between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone, could be a reality with Spain’s support.

Of course, only a month later, in March, we know that Spain entered a State of Alarm because of the pandemic.

It still seems unbelievable to me what we have experienced and are experiencing in this respect.


But, even so, we were able to see each other - a Spanish Foreign Minister and a Chief Minister of Gibraltar - in person, wearing masks, in the Campo de Gibraltar.

It was a meeting that elicited a lot of negative and unwelcome comment from those who never seem to want us to see each other face to face.

Because if we talk to each other, problems can be avoided.

Perennial problems can be solved.


As a culmination of these various contacts, we have been able to see very positive results for all.

First and foremost, the inclusion of Gibraltar in the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union.

An agreement on taxation between Spain and Gibraltar, signed on our behalf by the UK so that it has the status of international public law.

And several Memoranda of Understanding that allow us to work together regardless of what divides us.

That is why there are those who try to ensure that every time there is a meeting between a Spanish Foreign Minister and a Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the comments are so negative that they serve as a warning not to repeat the contact.

But I think Morán, Moratinos, Dastis, Borrell and Laya are braver than that.

For they have all met Chief Ministers from Gibraltar and I think it is true to say that none of them, as yet, have regretted it.


We Gibraltarians do not wear pirate patches.

We are not the caricature that is painted of the Llanito in the most rancid and defamatory media.

The truth is that, like everyone else, we Gibraltarians are good and not so good.

Some to everyone’s taste and some to no one’s taste.


But like all nations, we have children.

And why does that matter in a subject as convoluted as this one?

Sting sang ‘The Russians Love Their Children Too’ in reference to disarmament.

‘The Russians Love Their Children Too’ he sang.

We all seek progress and prosperity for our children.

For each generation to be better off than the last, not worse off.

May we live better today and in the future than in nostalgia for the past.

No one seeks, or should seek, regression or conflict.


That is why Gibraltar has always been a strong advocate of dialogue.

Because dialogue does not humiliate those who engage in it.

You are not kow-towing or losing your dignity when you try to settle disputes with reason and not with headlines.

Dialogue is essential for coexistence.

Living together as we do with Spain, coexistence must be based on mutual respect.

That is why, in these times of international uncertainty, when the post-war world aquis is under such attack from forces that stir up discord, our duty is to bring peace of mind to the people we have the honour and privilege to represent.

Dialogue is not giving in.

There is no weakness whatsoever in talking to those we face and knowing their arguments.

Adolfo Suarez said that “Dialogue is undoubtedly the valid instrument for any agreement, but there is a golden rule that cannot be broken: you cannot ask for or offer what you cannot give because, in that case, the very existence of the interlocutors is at stake”.

And do you know what is the most beautiful thing that happens when we engage in dialogue which respects the red lines?

Not only do we get to know the arguments of the other person.

We also get to know him or her.

We get to know the other person.

And we are, I hope mutually, really surprised by what we find in front of us.

We make friends.

And we give wings to cooperation.

In this regard, I would also like to remember today a colleague we lost along the way.

Antonio García Ferrer, who was head of the Gibraltar Office in the Ministry.

Antonio had a great desire to seek solutions and became a good friend.

I hope that those of us who remain behind will live up to his memory as we build a better future for all those we represent.

We know, with the certainty derived from three hundred years of experience, that with strong words, sieges and conflict we have arrived at nothing but the same point of departure.

So, having opted for dialogue, where has it got us?


In the early hours of the morning, or the ‘madrugá’, as they say in the south of the south, of 31st December last year, we reached an agreement.

The New Year’s Eve Agreement.

The United Kingdom and the European Union had already reached their Christmas Eve Agreement.

In extra time, minutes before the penalty kicks, we were able to reach an agreement so that Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar did not have to face a hard Brexit.

And, for the record, what the Minister told you in Congress about the tooth and nails was not metaphorical.

It was a tough negotiation where we all defended what was in our best interests.

But there was the joint objective of all the negotiating teams that this negotiation should come to a successful conclusion.

And a good outcome was indeed reached.

It was a ‘win-win’ at the last minute that is already bearing fruit in Gibraltar and in the Campo de Gibraltar, where today there is a certain degree of normality.

It is a framework agreement for mobility and cooperation that must now become a Treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union to regulate the new relationship between Gibraltar and the rest of the continent.

It will allow for fluidity at the border crossing.

Which, in turn, will also facilitate human relations.

And which, therefore, will give effect to the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and the Campo to leave behind so much confrontation.

And, of course, in this situation we will be able to create, once the treaty is signed, a legal certainty that will allow the business world to see no risk in cross-border investments.

What are we looking at?

The opportunity to create a very special and privileged area.

The opportunity to establish the ‘Gibraltar and Campo de Gibraltar’ brand as one of the most prestigious.

A benchmark in supplying a quarter of the world’s merchant fleet that passes through the Strait of Gibraltar every year.

This has already been identified in the report of the Mancomunidad led by my great friend and colleague Juan Lozano.

We have the opportunity to see Europe’s worst hit area become one of the most prosperous areas, not in Europe, but on the planet.

Gibraltar does not want to be Monaco.

But we do aspire to be an even more dynamic economic engine for the mutual benefit of all the inhabitants of Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar itself.

Before the pandemic we already enjoyed the third highest GDP per capita in the world.

Even though relations with our neighbour were not fluid, even without combining the strengths on either side of what we call the border and others call the fence, and with our main sponsor, the United Kingdom, taking us out of the European Union.

The people who live in the Campo de Gibraltar and the southern areas of Andalusia have a great ability.

We are people with flair, talent and an enterprising spirit.

We live in an area privileged by nature and the environment and by the working capacity of those who are fortunate enough to be born or make their lives there.

These people are a great resource - our great resource.

They are the most important of the resources discovered by international and Gibraltarian entrepreneurs who set up their businesses on the Rock but rely on labour and professionals from Gibraltar and the surrounding municipalities.

The people of Gibraltar and the Campo are extraordinary.

They only need the right conditions for the Campo to become one of the most prosperous areas in Spain.

And that is why, with companies coming to the area attracted by the legal certainty provided by the treaty to be negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union, I too am certain that conflict, disagreement and unemployment can be a thing of the past.

The prosperity created by a rainbow of opportunities that touches all shores of the Bay and all those who live there, can be the future of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.

Of course, much remains to be done.

It will not happen overnight.

We will have to work for many years.

But I appeal directly to the business class to be partners with the various administrations that can and should be involved in making a success of this dream of cooperation and prosperity.

And let it be clear, I am here to advocate what is good for Gibraltar.

But what is good for Gibraltar is good for Spain - and in particular it is good or very good for the hard-hit part of Spain that is the Campo de Gibraltar.

Of course, by the same token, what is bad for Gibraltar is also bad or very bad for the hard-hit part of Spain that is the Campo de Gibraltar.

The Mancomunidad states in its diagnostic report that the unemployment rate in the Campo de Gibraltar region is 29.75%.

It is worth mentioning that La Línea de la Concepción and Algeciras are ranked number 1 and 5, respectively, in the ranking of municipalities of more than 40,000 inhabitants with the highest unemployment in Andalusia.

45.5% of the unemployed people are between 25 and 44 years old.

For me, the matter is clear.

My desire to seek the success of my people exists in parallel, not in confrontation, to the success of the whole area.

They are mutually inclusive, not mutually exclusive.

And we can turn this data on its head.

For it is clear to us in the Government of Gibraltar that the time has come to lose the historical fears - while not crossing the historical red lines on either side.

Because in the New Year’s Eve Agreement we have found modern solutions that allow us to make human relations and business relations more effective.

It is clear to me that we are going to set this out in a historic Treaty, but also that we HAVE TO ACTUALLY ACHIEVE IT and that the people on both sides of the border are with us in wanting us to achieve it.

And that, alone, is a lot!

Because we also have to disregard so many negative comments and keep moving to achieve our common goal.

The commentators never fed anyone, nor did they create jobs other than their own.

And my message here today is that we must think dynamically, not statically, and with the courage that gives us the opportunity to make history – positive history.

That is the first rule of the world we live in.

Friends, with this potential treaty we are looking at a future of shared prosperity.

We want to create an even more prosperous economy for Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar in 10 years’ time.

A decade of growth and job creation.

A decade of investment in infrastructure and in policies of understanding.

To the large companies already established in Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar - and beyond - I extend the challenge of investment, job creation and the distribution of even more wealth.

And I propose it to you from an area that is going to be, I have no doubt, one of the most booming in Europe in the decade to come.


That is why I would also like to speak to young people.

They have a vision - for the most part - of a single, egalitarian planet in which free movement is the norm.

If we think of ourselves as modern, we cannot condition our world only on the battles, events and treaties of more than three hundred years ago.

And for them, for the young people, I support the call of the President of the Mancomunidad that the Spanish Government’s Reconstruction Plan should give special consideration to the Campo de Gibraltar.

There is still time for these investments to be designed to complement the investments projected by the Treaty we are proposing between the United Kingdom and the Union.

And here I digress for a moment to remind you that the Union’s mandate has not yet been concluded.

In this regard, we hope that when the Union is ready, a mandate will be produced in line with the New Year’s Eve agreement.

In this regard I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s very words, ‘A good conversation should exhaust the subject, not its interlocutors.

Let us hope that this mandate comes soon, at last.

For there is a great opportunity here.

With all the dynamism that Gibraltar brings and all the dynamism that the Campo brings.

It was even at a time of sterile confrontation when a report by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce quantified that Gibraltar contributed 24% of the area’s GDP.

What can we dream of if we move away from confrontation towards agreement and cooperation?

Not least, when we add the potential of the Port and Airport of Gibraltar and the Port of Algeciras and the railway.

The combination of the human and natural resources of the area and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Llanitos and Campogibraltareños present us with the potential for future growth, more wealth and that ‘shared prosperity’ of which we have spoken so much.

As the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, said in his first speech from the lectern of Congress as Prime Minister:

“We are going to look for solutions beyond the eternal issue of sovereignty for the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar.”

We are going beyond what Pedro Sánchez himself said at the London School of Economics when he spoke of making Gibraltar a ‘showcase’ for cooperation.

With the New Year’s Eve Agreement.

With the Treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

With good faith and good practice.

This is the arsenal with which we can seek to make a success of our endeavour.

I, as an optimist, know that we will all bet on success.

Because I am in politics to bring success to Gibraltar and to the area.

I will do my best to move forwards.

I am sure you will too.