It’s been almost two weeks since the EU referendum result and I still feel somewhat dazed; as if there’s been a death in the family. Stunned beyond belief at the divisions in British society and the political fallout from the result of that vote. My first thoughts on hearing the Leave campaign had won by a narrow margin to leave the EU were “what’s going to happen in Gibraltar?” The flood of messages in my inbox asked the same question.
Like many others I thought common sense would prevail – it didn’t. I thought British voters wouldn’t want to rock the boat – they did. Except in Gibraltar, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London where voters overwhelmingly wanted to remain part of the EU family. None of us expected this period of uncertainty – the enemy of stable economies – but uncertainty won the day by the slim margin of 4%. Voting patterns showed the younger generation voting to remain in the EU while older voters chose to leave.
As a parent I couldn’t help but think: “what kind of uncertainties lie ahead for my children and my grandchildren? How will it impact them? Their opportunities to study and work in any of the other EU countries.” How about travelling throughout EU countries, will we need visas and spend hours queuing at immigration control once Britain leaves? What if we need medical treatment while we’re on holiday in an EU country? I have to admit my mood was sombre, I felt dismayed by the turn of events. As if life as we know it was about to change and not for the better in my view.
In Gibraltar there was no time for hand-wringing. With a firm hand on the tiller, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo and his top negotiating team wasted no time in meeting with Europe Minister, David Lidington in London and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to try to find a way to remain part of the EU. Just prior to the referendum Gibraltar had reaffirmed its commitment to the EU in a series of meetings in Brussels.
Time waits for no man and, fortunately, there appears to be no immediate move by Britain to invoke Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the EU. At best they have a year, realistically, to get this right.
The Chief Minister has put forward a proposal that would see Gibraltar, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the EU following the referendum result. “All there needs to be is a redefinition of what the member state United Kingdom means in the treaties. We can – instead of sending a notice under article 50 – send a redefinition of what the member state ‘UK’ means. Sounds simple but legally it works.”
Contrary to fears that Gibraltar’s economy would not survive Brexit, there are already positive signs that it will. The Gambling Companies based on the Rock – one of three main pillars of the economy together with tourism and financial services – have issued a statement reassuring the community that it’s ‘business as usual’ and they are staying put. Two insurance companies have applied to be licensed on the Rock and another, already established there, is taking on more staff and expanding. Optimists believe that Gibraltar’s economy, which, for the last three decades has bucked the economic trend for Europe with GDP growth and virtually full employment, will navigate choppy waters and remain unshakeable as the Rock itself.
In a speech to the Gibraltar Parliament, Mr Picardo said he was entirely confident that the core elements of their economy and government public finances remained sounder than ever. “Redirecting and protecting the economy will be the main focus now,” he said.
Once again, any noises by neighbouring Spain about resurrecting joint sovereignty proposals have been immediately slapped down by London and Gibraltar’s leaders after the EU referendum result. Similarly any sabre rattling from Madrid about a possible closure of the border dismissed as “a retrograde step […] if they dared” by Picardo.
As the dust settles – slowly – following the referendum result, I suddenly thought, “hang on a minute. My people, the people of Gibraltar, have withstood numerous sieges throughout their 300 year history. As a people we are resilient. We will weather this storm like we have all the others.”
Mercifully, no-one in the family died on June 23rd 2016. I’ve no doubt it will go down in history as yet another ‘perfect storm’ weathered among many others, which have shaped the Rock and the Gibraltarians into what they are today.