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Statement by the Chief Minister on the Arrival of His Excellency the Governor, Lieutenant General Sir Benjamin Bathurst, KCVO, CBE - 405/2024

June 04, 2024

With your leave, Madam Speaker,


Chief Justice,

Fellow Members of Parliament,


Your Excellency,


On behalf of the people of Gibraltar, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar and as Leader of this House, I have the privilege of being the first leader of the institutions of Government to formally welcome you to your new home in Gibraltar.


I am sorry that Lady Bathurst has been unable to travel and very much look forward to her arrival on the Rock.


It is, nonetheless, a great privilege to be entrusted to deliver the terms of your official welcome to the new position you now hold as the Constitutional representative of His Majesty the King.


I have now welcomed four new Governors to Gibraltar .


All things going according to plan, you will be the last I will have the privilege of welcoming on our collective behalf as a People.


And you are the first to arrive in this Parliament to represent a King.


Additionally, you are the first representative of a King welcomed to Gibraltar by a democratically elected Chief Minister of Gibraltar.


A first for both of us and for The Rock.


The fact is that the last King of the United Kingdom predated the birth of representative, parliamentary democracy in a Gibraltar with Ministers elected by direct universal suffrage.


So long and so great was the reign of Her Majesty, our late, much loved, Queen Elizabeth the Second, that all of our modern Constitutional development occurred during the course of her time on the Throne.


Under our current Constitutional settlement, Your Excellency enjoys a singular honour that is bestowed upon you to represent the monarch, our Sovereign.


I have no doubt that, in no time, you will settle into this new role.


The excellent staff of the Convent and Convent Place will help no end.


Not least because His Majesty, King Charles the Third, King of Gibraltar, enjoys the loyalty, of course, of all his British subjects in Gibraltar.


He also, in particular, enjoys the love, support and affection of us all as the embodiment of the British Sovereignty of our treasured and beloved land.


Of that, neither His Majesty, nor you as his representative in Gibraltar, will ever be in any doubt.


Indeed, it is demonstrable that the staunchest defenders of the exclusively British sovereignty of Gibraltar are the British Gibraltarians.


Much more so than any other class of British subject.


Perhaps understandably so, as this is our land.


But, Your Excellency, also because we understand more intimately than anyone the ‘real politic’ of what the alternative is.


And that means that you are genuinely welcomed here as the continuing representation of our enduring success in ensuring that Gibraltar has remained exclusively British.


That is not to say that the nature of the manner in which our umbilical link with Britain is exercised has not developed over the years and that the role you play has not gently matured over time.


Of course it has.


And it will continue to develop and mature.


Indeed, one of the things that unites parties in this House is the view that there is work to be done to continue the modernization of our Constitution.


And that should not be seen as a criticism of the current text or any of the actors created by it, but as a salutary reality check that our roles require us always to ensure that we keep our Magna Carta up to date.


In fact, the very references to EU matters in the 2006 Constitution  under which you are today appointed, shows that there is a need to consider how we deal with matters now that we have left the EU.


And it is no secret, Your Excellency, that we have as yet not been able to bring back to our people and to this place for consideration a Treaty between the UK and the EU on our future relationship with Europe post-Brexit.


(In fact, it’s one of the few aspects of this process that isn’t confidential , I suppose!)


But we have been very clear in the process of seeking our re-election that we guaranteed that we would only bring back a Treaty if it was safe and secure.


Finally, having been accused of failure to timeously negotiate a Treaty, and, allegedly, achieving nothing in the years since the Referendum  we have recently heard from the same critical quarters that ‘it’s important not to compromise safety for speed ’.


We have been clear and consistent in taking that view since we started the negotiation, despite others urging us to hurry.


We have consistently said that we can agree in haste and repent at leisure.


For that reason we have preferred to take as long as is necessary to get the right deal, even if that means taking longer than anyone would like.


A deal that is safe on all fundamentals, not least sovereignty, jurisdiction and control and which delivers lasting social and economic benefits to our People and the people of the region around us.


Because a quick, unsafe or not beneficial deal would be in no-one’s interests.


Neither would a deal that could not be implemented because it would not enjoy popular support.


The conundrum, however, is to find that deal that is safe and secure by our measure and by the measure of our negotiating partners also.


A deal that is beneficial for all relevant economic actors.


A deal that enjoys popular support here but is not so unpopular elsewhere as to be rendered stillborn for that reason.


That is the difficult, but I hope not impossible, balance we are trying to strike.


Election periods obviously breed a different atmospheric to negotiations.


And we are going through such a period now in the EU and the UK.


Ironically, we will not be able to vote in this EU election as we would have in the past.


But many of us are now able to vote in the UK election, for the first time, if we have previously resided in the UK.


In this dual election period, although technical talks continue in earnest, I do not believe an agreement is likely to be declared before the installation of a new Government in London.


Whichever political party may form Government, we are clear that under either a continuity Conservative administration or, an incoming Labour administration, the key fundamentals in this negotiation will not change.


Labour have made that clear now for some time to our relevant negotiating counterparties.


In fact, we may be on the eve of another historic first – socialist governments in London, Madrid and Gibraltar.


That must, of course, assist that we should reach a positive conclusion that puts people above medieval claims.


But whatever the result of the election in London, we have worked well in our APPG and across the benches of the Commons in ensuring that those across the table from us are aware that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet on what will and will not be acceptable.


And although I may have to strike a more diplomatic tone these days, I know that the substance of the views I am expressing during these negotiations does not differ from the views of the boy whose first political act was to demonstrate against the 1987 Airport Agreement.


Or those of the young man who was first elected to this place over twenty years ago under the leadership of Sir Joe Bossano – who, incidentally, is stricken with COVID and unable to attend today but remains, to the chagrin of many, the spriteliest 84 (almost 85) year old in politics in the world!


In fact, the things the Deputy Chief Minister and I represent in the current negotiations are entirely in keeping with the views of the vast majority of the People of Gibraltar and the Members of the Cabinet that I represent.


Of that, Your Excellency, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind.


In fact, what is more important than anything in this and in every negotiation, in politics and in life generally, is honesty and consistency.


And that is why we are negotiating, hand in glove with the United Kingdom Government, to achieve the Mandate agreed between us in 2021.


This is designed, in good faith, to enable us to give effect to the New Year’s Eve Framework Agreement we agreed on the 31st December 2020.


And we have been consistent in the views we have presented in that respect, talking about the possibilities of concluding fluidity agreements with the EU in respect of the Schengen immigration zone and the Single Market in goods since.


Indeed, you will know that we were of that view and we started that consultation exactly ten years ago, in May of 2014, even before the Brexit Referendum was on the cards.


I announced that approach during the visit to Gibraltar of then Liberal UK Minister, Rt Hon Danny Alexander.


Never in that period have we thought it sensible, however, to suggest that the external relations of Gibraltar should be in the hands of the President of the European Commission, as others have done .


We are not uncomfortable with the Constitutional settlement in that respect which makes External Relations a responsibility of Your Excellency in Gibraltar, acting, as far as practicable in consultation with me as Chief Minister.


The clear reasons for that relate to the UK’s responsibility in international law as the signatory of our international legal obligations.


And that is, of course, the very reason why the Treaty we are negotiating would be between the UK and the EU and cannot be between Gibraltar and the EU.


But the reality is that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar spends the lion’s share of his time working exclusively on matters of external relations.


These days, that work is done very directly with London, and very closely with the eponymously named King Charles Street headquarters of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.


Our relationship could not be closer or more transparent with FCDO colleagues on ‘Team Gibraltar’.


It was, therefore, a misstep without precedent in our history by others to foolishly suggest that we could ever entrust the President of an organization with Spain as a member to discharge responsibility for our external relations on our behalf.


As it would be entirely wrong for anyone, however many doctrinal theses they may have devoted to Consitutional law, to believe that there is any stage between the conclusion of the legislative process in the House and the grant of Royal Assent to any Bill that has been through all its stages in our Parliament.


Even pretending to “share views” with a Governor before you grant or refuse Royal Assent to any Bill properly passed by this place would be to try to shoehorn into the legislative process a new ‘appellant’ stage which would, in effect, overturn the result of a General Election and in that way undo democracy as we know it.


There can be no more unacceptable an extra-Parliamentary device.


So be alive to the instances when these things have been attempted in the recent past, and by who, as you judge how you exercise the careful balance you must strike in the representation of our Monarch and the exercise of your defined responsibilities under the Constitution.


I know you will.


And bear in mind also that this British place is one that you will find is very different to other British places but no less British as a result.


As I said on the arrival of your predecessor, you will find that we are not English and this is not England.


We are not Scottish, nor Northern Irish, nor Welsh.


Because this is not Scotland, Northern Ireland nor Wales.


We are the Gibraltarians.


The people of the Rock.


And this is Gibraltar.


The home of our People.


And we are not better than any other British subject because we are Gibraltarian, but we are certainly also not worse or any less.


We are just different.


Just as British.


But just as different as each of the British people of the great British family of nations but no less British as a result.


We are bound by history, custom and Constitutional settlement into a British way of being.


But in our unique, Gibraltarian, British way.


Because we are British in our own way, in our own style, with our own British laws, and – indeed - our own British Government of which you come to form a part in proud representation of His Majesty.


And our key law, our Constitution, enshrines our commitment to the fundamental human rights contained in it and to the rule of law as a key part of how we see our Britishness.


This will have been clearest in the reality of the conduct of the Public Inquiry currently afoot, despite the many naysayers who – funded by the very taxpayers whose reputation they were trashing - initially suggested the opposite.


In fact, our touchstone is that key factor.


The rule of law.


For I will not tire of repeating that nations not committed, governed and bound by the rule of law provide none of the communal and personal legal certainty and security to their citizens that we, collectively, do in Gibraltar.


It is the “sine qua non” of our system.


And, indeed, the key basis for our political commitment to equality – not least the equality of all Gibraltarians and residents of Gibraltar.


Everyone different. 


Everyone equal.


Would that this were something that was not an issue in this day and age and in this House.


But it still is, for some.


I am very proud that the progressive Government I lead has delivered laws on equality in the time we have been in office.


Laws on Civil Partnerships for all sexual orientations, even before the UK.


Laws on Equal marriage.


And laws on women’s reproductive rights and progressive policies on IVF.


And all of those, Your Excellency, in the teeth of opposition from our political opponents.


In fact, I am proudest that we have delivered these changes in the teeth of opposition and in doing so have shown our progressive mettle and the regressive thinking of others.


On those issues of equality, although we are united on this side of the House, this is a House divided down the middle of the mace.


We are united, however, on the key issue of the right to self-determination of our people and the need to pursue self-sufficiency as the guarantee of our political rights.


The Deputy Chief Minister, Hon Dr Garcia, will be in New York, at the United Nations, to pursue this agenda, which we will NEVER resile from, at the Special Committee on Decolonisation on Monday.


I expect to hold further meetings in this respect in coming weeks.


And as we start this journey together, Your Excellency, it is essential to keep in view that section 49 of our current Constitution stipulates that the Governor must keep the Chief Minister fully informed about the general conduct of those matters under his responsibility.

Furthermore, to ensure equality, section 52 mandates that the Governor and the Chief Minister – that’s you and me, at least for now – ‘shall confer regularly,’ with the Chief Minister keeping the Governor updated on the Government’s policies and Gibraltar’s public affairs.

It is clear that Ben Bathurst and Fabian Picardo are about to become much better acquainted.

I, for one, eagerly anticipate the establishment of this new friendship and the collaborative work we will undertake in Gibraltar’s public interest.

In the local, political, lexicon, I will be ‘breaking in’ my fourth Governor.


I promise to be gentle.


Not least, because in the next four years you will have the role of breaking in a new Chief Minister. 


Please promise to be gentle then too, whoever they may be.


Having been taken under the wing of Sir Adrian and Susie Johns when the time came in 2011, I can tell you that assuming the reigns of this magnificent but demanding nation of ours is no easy task.


It will be made easier for my successor by your, by then, guiding hand and characteristically kind demeanour.


In every respect, you and me in coming months - and future Governors and Chief Ministers in the decades to come - will always achieve more for Gibraltar by working together than we ever could alone or pulling in different directions.


Indeed, the interests of Gibraltar are arguable even more aligned with a Global Britain outside the EU than they were with the UK in the EU.


Now, in a perhaps harsher and more dangerous world, our role as a British military base, an asset 1,500 miles south, is the modern embodiment of the projection of British power and influence.


And so, reflecting on the relationships I have had with your predecessors during my time in office, it is clear that the stronger the relationship between a Chief Minister and a Governor, the more successful, ultimately, the partnership between Great Britain and Gibraltar.


Our strong working connection is what will best serve the People of Gibraltar.


We must not fail them, and – having started to get to know you - I know we will not.


For your track record speaks for itself in demonstrating you are a person not just of deep integrity, but also of careful thought and considered action.


Our nation came quickly to love and cherish Vice Admiral Sir David Steel.


Indeed, although most of our Governors are respected and admired, not all enjoy the love of our people as Sir David has done and does.


I have no doubt that you and Lady Bathurst will be able to win the hearts of the Gibraltarians too.


You will find us a hospitable and welcoming bunch.


Prickly on some issues – notably anything related to our sovereignty - but friendly and endearing in equal measure.


Having had the privilege to represent us all for the past 12 and a half years, I can tell you that the People of Gibraltar value those who represent them and you will be no less valued as you embark on this journey with us.


Sir Ben. 


Welcome to Gibraltar.


Your new home.


The home of the Gibraltarians.


Your 32,000 new friendly neighbours.


A place that will enchant you like no other.


And a People whose love will henceforth colonise your hearts forever.


Welcome to Calpe.


Welcome to Jebel Tarik.