13:50 GMT +322 November 2019
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    In this file photo taken on January 23, 2019 an anti-Brexit activist waves a Union and a European Union flag as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in central London

    Self Determination for Gibraltar Group Chairman: Perhaps Time Has Come for Second Brexit Referendum

    © AFP 2019 / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
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    With the clock well and truly ticking down to the second Brexit deadline day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has managed to get the EU’s approval for his revamped Brexit deal, which will be put before the House of Commons tomorrow.

    Both the DUP and Labour Parties have already poured scorn over the bill, despite the seemingly celebratory atmosphere in Brussels, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will be approved by MPs in the UK.

    Even if a deal is achieved, it would not necessarily change the fact that certain territories that fall under Westminster’s jurisdictions - namely Scotland and Gibraltar - were staunchly anti-Brexit.

    Scotland, a country with an SNP majority government led by Nicola Sturgeon, has even seen a resurgence in calls to hold a second independence referendum, but is this the case with Gibraltar?

    Not so, according to Richard Buttigieg, a prominent Gibraltarian lawyer and Chairman of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, who believed that despite the difficulties that the UK’s departure from the EU could hold for the territory, the peninsula remains committed to remaining part of the British family, although he could understand Sturgeon’s stance regarding the issue.

    Gibraltar
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    Gibraltar
    “Gibraltar is very happy to be part of the British family, so we don’t share her view or the SNP’s generally, on seeking independence from the UK, we very much want to remain a part of it.”

    “Sturgeon is using Brexit as means through which to further their (the SNP’s) agenda. I am not sure what path that is going to take, so we’ll have to wait and see, but from a Gibraltarian perspective, whereas we fully respect the wishes of the Scottish people; we would not seek that independence.”

    “With respect to whether Gibraltar voted for Brexit; very few people did. We voted ninety-six percent in favour of remaining in the EU, so I think that speaks for itself. That said, we are part of the British family, we are proud of being part of the English family and that comes with its consequences, and that means that if the British family has decided to leave the EU through a referendum much against our will, we are committed to that family and we, therefore, have to leave the EU along with them.”

    Since Gibraltar became British more than three hundred years ago, Spain to the north has repeatedly launched irredentist claims that “the rock”, as it is known to locals, should be “returned” to them.

    But could the powers that be in Madrid consider pushing for this once more after Brexit?

    Buttigieg dismissed the idea, stating that Gibraltar has been separate for long enough from Spain to form a distinct identity.

    “That identity is very important I think, not only because it is who we are as a people; but because it actually helps us in our definition of being a people. One of the reasons that the Spaniards say that Gibraltar is not entitled to the right of self-determination is because we are not actually a people. In their view, the people of Gibraltar are the people who were in Gibraltar at the time that it was overtaken by the Anglo-Dutch forces from the Spaniards, those people who lived in Gibraltar at the time moved to Spain, and they say that those are the original Gibraltarian people.”

    “We say that although that may be true, it has now been over three hundred years that Gibraltar has been British, and during that time we have developed our own sense of identity, our own culture, own way of doing things and for that reason I do think that we are very much  a people with our own identity, and therefore it is crucially important for us that we maintain that identity and that we work hard to develop that identity.”

    The lawyer did, however, acknowledge that the Spanish government could attempt to capitalise on the situation.

    “With regards to the Spanish dimension, there is no doubt that any government in Spain is going to try and take advantage of Brexit. VOX will certainly try to take advantage of it aggressively; they have said so openly.”

    “I think the PPE government would try to do so as well, and PSOE one would think would try to do so less, but it was actually the PSOE government that made the issue of the colony in the withdrawal agreement. So I think that the Spanish government will try to take advantage of Brexit one way or another. It is only to be hoped that democracy shall prevail, that common sense shall prevail, and for the good of the people on both sides of the border that the politicians will work towards finding a solution which is workable for all, whilst putting aside the more nuanced political issues.”

    Westminster under the Conservative government has often been accused by the likes of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon of neglecting the wishes of other countries and territories that form the UK, in particular with the issue of the Irish border, as many fear that a no-deal Brexit could leader to checks being conducted on goods between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, hence undercutting the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement.

    Buttigieg, on the other hand, defended the British government’s actions in protecting the interests of Gibraltar,  and believed that the local government has done enough to prevent the worst-case Brexit scenarios from happening.

    Gibraltar
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    Gibraltar
    “The UK government hasn’t done badly vis a vis Gibraltar. I’m not sure that we would have been an afterthought but I do think perhaps not enough consideration has been given to Gibraltarian issues that will arise as a result of Brexit.”

    “During the last three years we have seen three Prime Ministers in the UK and the Gibraltarian government has been close to each of them, so whereas Gibraltar may not have been as much at the forefront of English politics as I would have wanted it to be, I think our government has done enough to put it there and as a result of that work, I think the UK government has taken the right positions it needed to take vis a vis Gibraltar.”

    “That being said, our government and the President of the Gibraltar Labour Party has done a lot of work to ensure that the right people in the UK understand the Gibraltarian issues, and I think we have made the right inroads.”

    Despite this, the lawyer believed that Gibraltar’s economy could suffer as a result of the UK severing ties with Brussels.

    “We have several thousand workers from Spain who come into Gibraltar every day. Our economy and our industry basically depend on those workers being able to carry out their jobs, from nurses in the hospital, to attendants in shops, to people in the cleaning industry, so we really would be adversely affected if these workers would not be able to come into Gibraltar to do their jobs.”

    “If that were to happen there would be a knock-on effect. There would be less people in Gibraltar buying goods every day as they do. These workers come in every day. They pour petrol into their cars, they buy their groceries, they change money in the exchange bureaus, many of them bank in Gibraltar, so obviously there’s an industry that depends on these workers.”

    “Many tourists cross the border every day to come into Gibraltar and if we were to have long delays at the frontier, I’m not sure that tourists would be willing to endure that delay. So whereas we would continue to have our cruise ship industries thriving, because those come in through the port, those coming in through land might not want to do so.”

    Even though the aforementioned problems will arise, Buttigieg felt that Gibraltar’s economy was diverse enough to recover from any initial disruption.

    “There is a serious possibility of the Gibraltar economy being impacted. That said, the fact that we are so small also allows us to be very nimble. We can adapt quickly, we can change quickly and traditionally Gibraltar has been good at adapting to difficult situations.”

    “When General Franco closed the frontier when he took power in Spain, he is known to have said that Gibraltar is a fruit that is ripe to fall from the tree, meaning that in due course he felt that strangling us at the frontier would inevitable make us yield to his demands. That passed and Gibraltar re-invented itself and imported workers from Morocco and elsewhere. Gibraltar diversified its economy and we survived. So I would like to think that through the ingenuity, through the hard work and through the tenaciousness of the Gibraltarians, we will be able to adapt to whatever happens. But it would be foolish to not realise that Brexit, in particular, a no-deal Brexit, might be very problematic for us.”

    Buttigieg also agreed that it would be best for UK MPs to accept Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s divorce bill.

    “If there is a deal, as it now seems could happen, I feel much more relaxed about it because I think the transition period would be one which would allow us to adapt to whatever it is that the new world order will be like.”

    The politician did still have his reservations about whether said bill would be approved.

    “I would not be surprised if the only recourse left for the Prime Minister were to seek a delay, because I don’t think he’ll get a deal by Saturday and if he doesn’t get it by then, I think he’s left with no option but to seek a delay.

    Parliament has made it relatively clear that he would not be allowed to leave without a deal. So if he had to seek a delay, uncertainty is not good for anyone and Brexit is getting to the situation where people just want it over one way or another.

    I continue to think, however, that a no-deal Brexit is such a bad thing for everybody that even if it means a further delay, so be it.”

    In conclusion. Buttigieg argued that if no parliamentary agreement on Brexit is found yet again, a second referendum on the issue could help break the UK’s political stalemate once and for all.

    “Perhaps the time has come for a second referendum. Whereas I fully understand the argument made that there was a referendum, and you’ve got to respect the wishes of the people, enough time has lapsed and enough circumstances have changed and enough new facts have emerged that I think that if there were to be another referendum, not only would there be a whole new generation of people who could vote, but there is now a better understanding of what Brexit entails, of the difficulties and the intricacies and the complication.”

    “Therefore, whereas one must always strive to respect the wishes of democracy, that is what a referendum is, perhaps the time has come for a second referendum to be called, because there are a few issues which when they converge, create a sufficient justification for  ordering a second referendum, and I think that would go some way to at least gauging what the people want.”

    The UK is certainly set for a whirlwind weekend of political action, with the nation’s (and indeed Gibraltar’s) immediate future at stake.

    But if Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is roundly rebuffed in the House of Commons once again, either a no-deal departure from the EU or another extension of Article Fifty will be inevitable.

    Those are two scenarios which are still likely to divide both parliament and public whilst creating significant economic uncertainty.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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