When ‘Vox’ contacted me and asked for a comment on the content of the draft Guidelines published by the European Council in reply to Theresa May’s letter triggering the process that will deliver Britain’s divorce from the EU, I was glad to agree. For close to two decades and until shortly prior to entering politics, I contributed the then physical newspaper’s weekly ‘Rock Around The Rock’ music column and so, for many years, its Editor, the late and always charismatic Eddie Campello, was a friend.
Times may have changed in the intervening years, but at least one thing has remained a constant: Gibraltar’s need - but also its ability - to defend what is rightfully ours; our determination to fight for what is right and fair; making our small voice heard in the face of the injustices some out there remain intent on imposing upon us.
The Chief Minister was of course entirely correct in describing the proposed singling out of Gibraltar - that is to say, the statement, currently in draft form, that post-Brexit agreements will only apply to Gibraltar with Spain’s consent - as “unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable”. Such a clause would have been discriminatory even had Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. The fact that the Council has wished to purposefully impose, at Spain’s behest, a proviso that specifically affects those of us who had most enthusiastically voted to retain our links with the European Union, merely serves to add insult to injury. It says more about the EU’s institutions than it does of Spain. At this stage, however, and as unhelpful as the draft Guidelines are, the fact is that, until such time as they may or may not be formally adopted as the official position of the Council, they remain a draft and, as such, capable of amendment. It remains to be seen what diplomacy and the days to come will deliver.
What is a certainty is that the prospect of war is as unlikely as Spain’s approach is immature, hateful and selfish. Lord Howard’s comments linking the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar were clearly intended as a manifestation of Britain’s resolve in protecting our rights and our sovereignty. It is a moot point whether the vocal architecture - if I may call it that - was or not a little clumsy, but the former Conservative Party leader was simply articulating the firmness of Britain’s position regarding our sovereignty. Nothing more. The media elected to misconstrue the real message because, of course, a declaration of war sells more papers than supportive rhetoric.
Be that as it may, let us be clear. Nobody realistically believes Gibraltar's sovereignty is at stake. We are and will continue to be exclusively British. That will remain unchanged. Comments by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and others on respecting our wishes and allaying any possible sovereignty-related concerns are, while welcome, not the full story. The real issue upon which the UK Government needs to placate concerns and fears is in ensuring the Rock is not left out of trade and other deals. It is on that point we need the strongest of UK assurances. Whether or not they will be forthcoming remains to be seen, but the fact that our Chief Minister appears to enjoy such an excellent, close working relationship with the UK Government at the highest levels is a positive that cannot be dismissed.
The positives do not necessarily end there. Eternal optimists for whom all clouds come equipped with a silver lining may form the view that Article 22 may not be such a bad thing, all things considered, and here’s why: It has laid the cards on the table. It has galvanised support for Gibraltar. It has ensured the British government must now be seen to be defending our interests. There have been instances in the not too distant past where extensive negotiations have come close to breaking down literally at the eleventh hour, with Spain throwing a Gibraltar-shaped spanner in the works and the British either not having been able or willing to do their homework, resulting in the Rock being sacrificed for the sake of an agreement by midnight. This time, there can be no surprise. This time, everyone knows who we are dealing with. This time, it will be even less defensible to ignore Gibraltar’s needs and realities.