Chief Minister Fabian Picardo used a speech to the UN’s Fourth Committee on Tuesday to signal confidence in ongoing negotiations for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc, and his hope that it will open a new era in positive cross-border relations.
In his first in-person address in New York since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Picardo made clear that only the Gibraltarians could determine the future of their homeland, a position he said was defended by the UK both politically and in the 2016 Constitution.
But in setting out, once again, Gibraltar’s position on self-determination, he was careful too to signal the Rock’s desire for normalised relations with Spain and the EU that moved away from “sterile” age-old differences over sovereignty.
“We are a year in [to the treaty talks] and we are making good progress,” he told the UN.
“The easy thing to do is to call off doing such a treaty as it is too difficult,” the Chief Minister said.
“The hard thing to do is to keep at it, to redouble efforts and look away from apparently intractable disagreements, determined instead to find alternative ways to bring harmony where there has historically been discord.”
“I believe we can achieve that, with continued goodwill and without concessions on matters of cardinal importance to each side. “
“I do confess I have done easier things in life.”
“But forgive me for quoting JFK when I tell you that all of us who are involved in this negotiation know that the prize at the end of this task is greater and worth pursuing, ‘not because it is easy, but because it is hard’.”
“And I know that technical difficulty has not deterred the magnificent negotiating teams that each side has assembled.”
The Chief Minister’s positive messaging on the treaty talks was counterbalanced by a clear statement on Gibraltar’s traditional position on sovereignty, which has remained unchanged over the many years that Gibraltarian political leaders have addressed the UN.
For Mr Picardo, the two were not incompatible.
“When it comes to our political rights, only we, the people of Gibraltar, will determine the future of Gibraltar,” he said.
“When it comes to our decolonisation, our inalienable right to self-determination must be respected and we must be delisted.”
“When it comes to our relations with our neighbours, we seek harmony and peaceful cooperation.”
“When it comes to our future relationship with the European Union, we will work to deliver unimpeded fluidity at our frontiers for persons and goods.”
Earlier in his address, Mr Picardo told the UN that Gibraltarians enjoyed a mature partnership with the UK, with self-determination at its core.
And reflecting on life after Brexit, he said Gibraltar’s British sovereignty and its common law system, together with the “entrepreneurial flair and industry” of the Gibraltarians, already created wealth not just in Gibraltar but in the neighbouring region.
Outside the EU, that British sovereignty was an asset, he said.
“In our negotiations with the EU we are working to produce a new UK\EU treaty that will remove barriers to mobility of people and goods, and enable us to create even more wealth, stability and prosperity for Gibraltar and the whole region,” Mr Picardo told the Fourth Committee.
“Such a treaty will be the spark to re-energise the whole region, generating tremendous opportunities for all who are lucky enough to live in our privileged setting.”
“Imagine the energy and resources that Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar put into arguing before you and with each other channelled, instead, into working together.”
Mr Picardo said Gibraltar wanted to work with its neighbours and demonstrate that historical disagreements could be set aside for the benefit of communities on either side of the border.
“We can show that there is a route away from sterile disagreement and toward mutually beneficial outcomes,” he told the UN.
“And we can show that with goodwill, hard work and determination we can produce positive outcomes that do not require negative compromise by any party to negotiations.”
“We can do it respecting each other’s positions, jurisdiction, responsibilities and international legal obligations.”
“And of course, recognising each other as a prerequisite.”
“And if we achieve that in the context of our perennial disagreement, then we will achieve something historic for the people we represent and for all humankind.”
As always in these speeches before the UN, Mr Picardo set out Gibraltar’s belief that the Gibraltarians “undoubtedly enjoy the inalienable right of self-determination” under international law.
He said that in accordance with that international law and its “obligations” to the Gibraltarians, the UN should decolonise Gibraltar “exclusively” through the principle of self-determination.
“That is to say, our decolonisation can be completed only in keeping with our wishes and aspirations as a people,” he said.
“And in this pending exercise, there is no role for any party other than the United Nations, the Administering Power, the United Kingdom and us, the People of the Non-Self-Governing Territory.”
Mr Picardo noted that Gibraltar had repeatedly invited the UN Committee of 24 to visit the Rock to understand on the ground the situation of its people.
But the Committee of 24 has never taken up the offer.
“If the C24 does not wish to learn about the people of Gibraltar, why should it, or this committee, entertain any suggestion that our decolonisation should be underpinned by anything other than our inalienable right to self-determination?” Mr Picardo said.
“We therefore appear before you to confidently assert that right, which forms the bedrock of all our international relationships.”
Mr Picardo reminded the UN that Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK was not a colonial one and had at its core the double-lock commitment that the UK would neither change or even discuss sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
He said that was not just a political commitment but one set out in law in the preamble to the 2016 Constitution, and one that the UK had repeatedly stated before the UN.
“This committee needs to understand that in taking that position, the United Kingdom is upholding our rights under international law to decide our future, over our land and our home,” the Chief Minister said.
“The United Kingdom is thus supporting your work and our right to self-determination.”
Mr Picardo urged the UN to procced to remove Gibraltar from its list of non-self-governing territories in accordance with the principle of self-determination.
And he left no room for doubt as to the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
“The people of Gibraltar will not consent to any discussion or negotiation of one iota of the sovereignty of our land, sea or air,” he said.
“We will simply not accept it.”
“And any idea that our removal from the list of non-self-governing territories should be informed by anything other than our sacrosanct right to self-determination is untenable.”