Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, broadcast his televised New Year Address on the evening of 10 January and spoke of a number of matters including the two which have rather overshadowed the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic and the negotiations regarding Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.
On Covid, he said 2021 had been an “awful year” of pandemic deaths, with the number totalling 100 since the start, 93 of them last year, and he expressed his most sincere condolences to everyone who had lost a relative or friend.
“We can now look back on 2021 and see we have come through an astonishingly difficult year. And we all jointly hope or pray that a better and brighter 2022 lies ahead of us,” he said, “but let us be clear: it is up to us and our collective effort to make a success of 2022. Let us be clear also that our fortunes are in our own hands as a people. Subject to the challenges of medicine and nature, we will be the ones that will shape the year to come”.
Although insisting that he feels positive and optimistic about the future for Gibraltar, he also made it clear that 2022 will be a year of challenges, many of them related to Brexit, which he described as a cutting political reality that Gibraltar had not brought upon itself:
“These are the inescapable realities of the situation we have found ourselves in since the 24th June 2016. And it is fundamental that we get our future relationship with the EU right. That is why this process is absorbing so much of our time. Let me be categorical on the Treaty negotiations. We are and always will be British and we left the EU with the UK. But we are also on the edge of Europe and a part of the European continent. Our current commercial reality, our tourist industry, as well as our jurisdictional offering is based on a fluid frontier with the EU, but always offering a British marketplace, a British experience and an exclusively British jurisdiction. Our current business model and our interaction with Europe depend on a fluid frontier that is administratively easy to traverse. In a way that delivers greater opportunities for our children in both Britain and Europe, not less. In a way that reflects the reality of our geographic, economic and political circumstances. And certainly not in a way that is a hostage to the rose tinted myths of nostalgia. Instead we must reflect the reality of life in the third decade of the twenty first century. Because our modern identity is already steeled in the key determination that no one has a right to decide our future other than the Gibraltarians. Nothing will ever change that. So I have been as clear in public statements as I am in private negotiations throughout. My government sees Gibraltar’s future in one way and in one way only. As British, British, British. And under the government I lead, we are closer to Britain than we have been for generations. So don’t for one moment believe we would do anything to change that”.
The chief minister pointed out that the fact that the negotiations with the EU are continuing is a positive sign for the prospects of reaching an agreement and that a deal – if there is one, as Gibraltar will walk away rather than have any of its red lines crossed – would be the foundation of improved prosperity both sides of the border. However, he said, “make no mistake about it: it will be a legally complex deal and it will be equally politically complex and based on the reality of the multilateral relationships that our politics depends on.”
“Buckle up though,” he said, “because it is not going to be easy. Fasten your seat belts. Because navigating these waters is going to be tough but worth it. Because what is at stake is the safety and security of the future of our children. I have to say this is probably one of the most difficult messages I have had to deliver to you. But I will always tell you the truth - even when the truth is hard and it may not be what you want to hear. You pay me to tell you the truth. You pay me to do the right thing for the many not the few. And you pay me to defend our position as a people in a way that protects our inviolable British sovereignty.
“We are a community that sticks together through adversity. The last five years have seen us face successive waves of adversity. But we have and we will overcome all of those challenges. Now is not a time to lose our nerve. But is also not a time to turn on one another. We are forged from greater steel than the self-interest we are seeing from a few, seeking to instill division amongst the many. We cannot let the few dilute the interests of the many. Because if we stand together, I have no doubt that this year we can once again emerge successful after twelve months of hard work and determination. There is no external challenge we cannot overcome. I know you will never give up when it comes to Gibraltar and our future generations. United we will make a great success of this year to come”.
Picardo finished by saying that after the Christmas break with his family he feels energised and ready for every challenge that 2022 will present, and that “this year, like last year and every year, the protection of our homeland is what will guide every step we take and every decision I make”.