At the end of March 2006 the UK and Gibraltar Governments announced that agreement had been reached on a new Constitution for Gibraltar providing for a modern relationship between Gibraltar and the UK. This new constitution enshrined enduring British sovereignty, whilst we in Gibraltar so wished that to continue. The text also confirmed, for the first time, Gibraltar's right to self determination. This recognition was tempered by the reservation, on the part of the UK, that independence was not possible without Spain's consent. Weakly Gibraltar expressed its disagreement to this constraint, in my view, a disagreement that is unenforceable in practice. Importantly, it was confirmed (in the preamble) that this new constitution provides for that degree of self government which is compatible with British sovereignty and the fact that the UK is responsible for external affairs. What does this mean?
If Gibraltar wishes, as it does at present, to remain under British sovereignty with the UK responsible for its external affairs, then there is no scope for increased self government. The door to any further negotiation with the UK to expand the powers of Gibraltar's Parliament and its Government has been firmly closed by the UK. This has been endorsed by the Gibraltar Government's acceptance of the new constitution and, more significantly, by the referendum in 2006 that adopted that constitution.
We can argue for ever that the new constitution delegates all the necessary powers already. I am not an adherent to this opinion, not least because in the Chagos Island's case the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that the words "... for the peace, order and good government..." are words that limit and restrict the power of a legislature in a British Overseas Territory, which is what Gibraltar continues to be. Additionally, more blatantly, because the UK has power, under the constitution, to impose direct rule . If anyone doubts that Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory (not nation), that fact is declared and confirmed in the Despatch to the new constitution.
When one conjoins that the UK has closed the door to increased self government with the UK's view that independence is not an option without the consent of Spain, there is little room to achieve a changed status, which is what the Chief Minister said he aspired to, without Spain's consent. This is an especially valid argument for those, like the GSD, who preach the belief that the new constitution and its acceptance in the 2006 Referendum was an exercise in self determination, because it most certainly cannot be that unless and if it devolves the maximum unconstrained power to Gibraltar.
Thankfully all this actually leaves Gibraltar in a place where I believe most want it to be. We are able to legislate and govern ourselves without interference, so long as our Parliament and government do not transgress the requirement that it be ".... for the order, peace and good government of Gibraltar ..." If there is any attempt to transgress these limitations we have the safeguard that the UK as power to interfere or more appropriately the courts can be requested to consider the circumstances. Additionally the UK is responsible and obligated to look after our external affairs and security with the safeguard that there will be no change in British sovereignty without our consent.
Why oh why, then, do some of our politicians harp on and on about further changes to our status? "Leave well alone" is my mantra. If in the future there is a change in our collective opinion we can re-look at our various international relations.
What about Spain? Well it is Spain that claims sovereignty, so it is a Spanish problem. It is not "the Gibraltar problem". Gibraltar is happy in the main. Spain can read the new constitution just as well as anyone else. It knows what it should do. Convince future generations of Gibraltarians to change their minds, if they can and if Gibraltarians ever will change their minds. One thing is certain Spanish harassment, like incursions in the bay, put any potential for advance of their case back by years; many in Gibraltar will say excellent, keep it up Spain!
What those self-same politicians should be concentrating on is doing their jobs, which is to govern Gibraltar. It is not to strut the international stage to boost their egos and pretend that they are important international statesmen. They should also concentrate on improving those parts of our institutions that remain untouched by the new constitution, briefly, to deliver more accountable democratic and transparent government ... and, oh yes another thing, to improve the lot of the Gibraltarians, especially the less privileged amongst us.
I know who will get my vote. The party who not only promises to do this but which provides guarantees that it will actually do what it promises. What if none of them make me that offer? Well I will exercise my right to vote by casting a ballot paper without a single cross on it.