Recent interventions in the UK Parliament involving the Chief Minister and David Davis, the UK BREXIT Secretary, and the reaction of the Chief Minister to Mr Davis’ interventions on the subject of Gibraltar emphatically show that there is not a sufficient inquisitive and critical press, especially the printed press, in Gibraltar, whose insightful analysis and opinion would benefit democracy greatly. The ease with which the spin of those in Government in Gibraltar, from time to time, can gloss over reality, occurrences and events without enough press question or investigation, followed by informed criticism is palpable. Mr Davis, in his evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the EU, cut down and clearly contradicted the assertions, on the same subject, made before the House of Lords EU Committee by the Chief Minister, yet the Chief Minister sails on without facing press criticism from much of the press.
The day before Mr Davis spoke, the Chief Minister had told the House of Lords Committee that BREXIT would be a multi-faceted deal with differentiated outcomes for different sectors of industry and parts of the UK, including Gibraltar, emphasising the differential by making reference to the possibility of a micro-sate. In clear contradiction of that assertion, Mr Davis has told the House of Commons Committee that he did not envisage a special arrangement for Gibraltar as part of the UK’s deal to leave the EU but, in a bid to leave the door very slightly ajar, added that he did not rule it out completely. Mr Davis stated, very clearly and forcefully, that “he would be loathe” to go down the route of a tailor-made BREXIT deal for Gibraltar to suit its own particular circumstances. This is an assertion in the strongest terms. The words used by Mr Davis are not mealy mouthed.
Yet the Chief Minister is allowed, without sufficient press analysis or criticism, to hang his hat on asides and to spin this by pretending that really the UK Minister expressed opinions “entirely in keeping” with the views that the Government has put to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Exiting the EU. Of course, these views are not public and so are unknown but to a few. However, the ability for the press to analyse and criticise remains, based on what is public. What is public shows a clear put down by Mr Davis of the Chief Minister’s primary assertion that there could be a differentiated outcome for Gibraltar in the BREXIT negotiation.
Our Chief Minister then grabs onto the best distraction issue that exists in Gibraltar: that Mr Davis said also that the primary issue for Gibraltar is British sovereignty and the argument with Spain, adding that the UK had a firm position to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and that this is written in his blood. Well, it does not need to be written into the blood of the Minister. It is written into our Constitution. There is no doubt on the issue of our Britishness (sic) or the UK’s obligations in that regard. The repeated reassurances by British Ministers is what may bring it into doubt but let us understand clearly that this is not doubted in Gibraltar, it is written into our Constitution.
What is clear is that our British sovereignty, precisely because it is engraved into our Constitution, is not what is in question in the BREXIT negotiations. Consequently, it is not a primary issue in the BREXIT negotiation, as Mr Davis said also. It is a consideration only because the Spanish Government is bringing it into the equation opportunistically (as usual). What are primary issues for Gibraltar are those that the Chief Minister referred to the House of Lords Committee: achieving fluidity at the frontier and access to the EU Single market for services but, again as the Chief Minister stated clearly, undermining our British sovereignty is not a price that Gibraltar is willing to pay in return for obtaining the best outcome on these two issue.
It is of the utmost importance that, despite Mr Davis' comments, negotiations concentrate on the two issues that are of primary importance to Gibraltar, without falling into the trap of equating those with the issue of sovereignty. It may seem that one party, Spain, may do its utmost to bring the issue of sovereignty into play but the clarity by which these are separate issues must be emphasised throughout. After all, the UK’s desire to remain in the Single Market, whilst opting out of freedom of movement is another conundrum that seemingly does not have a solution right now.
Only time will tell but in a piece published in this blog on the 29th May 2016, just before the referendum, a question was posed:
“... [Picardo as Chief Minister] and his Government will have to steer Gibraltar through the extremely difficult times that may follow a BREXIT vote. The silence of Picardo and his Government on what its policies in this eventuality are is palpable. Should the GSLP Government not be telling the people of Gibraltar what the Government’s intentions are in this eventuality? This is especially important in light of the enormous direct and indirect public borrowings that Picardo’s Government have incurred”
Well the time has come and yet we have no answer beyond that BREXIT is miraculously no longer an existential problem to our economy, as the Chief Minister said it would be prior to the referendum, and the two primary issues identified above, but what if the situation with Spain or what Mr Davis has said do not allow for these two to be achieved?