Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo writes exclusively for The New European on why the reset button must be pressed on Brexit.
Exhausted is probably the best way to describe the political debate in the UK.
The public are tired of hearing politicians rabbiting on about Brexit. The politicians are tired of going round in circles talking about Brexit without a breakthrough. Europe is tired of the British malaise infecting its own decision-making. Everyone is tired of Brexit.
Exhaustion is, however, not a reason to stop working towards a worthy goal. For me, that goal is seeing the result of the 2016 referendum reversed or our departure from the European Union being a managed one which does not gut the Gibraltar economy or disembowel us of the benefits of the relationship we enjoy with Europe today.
Gibraltar has been a part of the EU since 1972. We voted with the rest of the United Kingdom in the referendum in 2016. You know the result.
It was the first declared on the night of June 23 – 96% of us voted to remain in the EU. Not because we loved the EU, but because, warts and all (and there are many of them), it is a worthy project for peace and lucrative organisation for trade.
In the context of Gibraltar’s specific circumstances, the EU has also provided an administrative backdrop to relations between us and Spain which – because of the latter’s historic sovereignty claim – we have not otherwise been able to agree.
Today, having spent the better part of three years talking only about the subject of whether and, if so, how to leave Europe, I feel like all of us have been co-opted into what was always previously an almost entirely Tory argument. Now, every Brit has been dropped into the European psychosis.
Of course, the Leave campaign in the referendum was a tissue of clever and catchy lies. A false prospectus which would have led its proponents to jail if they had been selling financial services products.
Despite that, we accepted the result and were ready to leave in an orderly manner, on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement which also protects Gibraltar’s interests. We have worked to deliver that agreement with some of the best civil servants in the world, who are unfairly blamed for not delivering on the impossible fantasies that Brexit fetishists have been polishing for generations.
But now, with the United Kingdom in political paralysis, there is clearly only one route to take. We all need time to take stock. We need to reach a consensus on our future relationship with the EU (whether that is inside or outside the EU).
We need to do that without the pressure of time limits fixed in Brussels. If the EU refuse a lengthy extension, there is really only one way to do that. After the European Court of Justice decision in the case of Brightman, the United Kingdom can unilaterally revoke the Article 50 notification. That allows us all – Leavers and Remainers – to take back control of Brexit.
The only class of people who might be disappointed are the zealots who believe in leaving the EU without a deal. Senior Tories used to call them ‘swivel-eyed loons’, before they allowed them to set us all on a course to disaster. I call them the kamikaze Leavers. I am no kamikaze when it comes to the wealth and health of Gibraltar. I will never back a no-deal Brexit – although we are ready for it. I won’t take risks with the wellbeing of the Gibraltarians.
That’s why, in the absence of approval of the Withdrawal Agreement or a long extension agreed by the EU, I am calling on the prime minister to press the only button left which ensures a safe passage for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar going forward – revoke.
Only then can we properly take stock and map a way forward together.
Only then will we take real value from the political ructions of the past year and deliver a very British victory born of compromise, hard work and diplomacy.
Let that be how this political generation is finally defined.
Fabian Picardo has been chief minster of Gibraltar since 2011; he is the leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party