If anyone doubted the close relationship between Gibraltar and the area of Spain closest to it, or the friendship between Gibraltarians and their nearest Spanish neighbours, they would only have had to attend the University of Cadiz Summer Course on Brexit in San Roque (Cadiz) this week and, especially, yesterday when Fabian Picardo, the chief minister, gave a talk on how Britain's withdrawal from the EU would affect not only Gibraltar but the Campo de Gibraltar area as well.
The large room was packed and the atmosphere was friendly, but the concern shared by all those present was almost palpable. What is Brexit going to mean for the Rock and for its closest neighbours?
The chief minister began by reiterating that Gibraltar had not wanted the UK to leave the EU. In fact, 96 per cent voted Remain. However, as Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, it will be leaving together with the UK next year. Speaking in Spanish, he said that on 24 June 2016, the day after the referendum, he thought the result was a bad decision. "I think that even more, now," he said. "In the UK they are now talking about a plan to ensure there is enough food, in the case of no deal being agreed. And a special plan so that hospitals don't run out of medication. There hasn't been a situation like this since the end of the Second World War."
He also said that although Gibraltar doesn't want to leave the EU, it has no real choice. "We are going to, because the only other alternative would be to give up part of our sovereignty," he said. "My worst memory of 24 June 2016 wasn't the referendum result, or the resignation of David Cameron, it was the immediate statement by Señor Margallo, Spain's Foreign Minister, who appeared on television screens all over the world explaining that within four years the Spanish flag would be flying over Gibraltar. Populism, pure and hard."
Picardo stressed that neither this, nor Brexit, has changed his government's attitude, which is that mutual cooperation is the way forward. He referred to the notorious Clause 24 in the EU negotiating guidelines, effectively giving Spain a 'double veto', describing it as an "act of enmity" towards Gibraltar and one which could in fact have negative repercussions for the whole Campo de Gibraltar area.
With regard to Gibraltar's relationship with the UK, the chief minister said it has never been stronger. The basis for a single market for services between Gibraltar and the UK, "which will guarantee 90 per cent of our services market" has been established and the British government has confirmed its continuing support. The prime minister, Theresa May, said recently that she is negotiating on behalf of the "whole British family, including Gibraltar" and continues to insist that the transition period must apply to the Rock.
With regard to the Campo de Gibraltar, he said his government wants to expand the synergies as much as possible post-Brexit. "We hope to be able to create here, in this area which has been castigated throughout history, a rainbow of opportunities which will bring even more benefits to all parts of the Bay," he said, to huge applause.