Gibraltar deserves the same sort of soft border with Spain as Northern Ireland, if indeed the UK does go ahead with Brexit.
This is the point of the view of local Remain campaigner Paul Cartwright, who claims democracy will be best best be served with a referendum on the Brexit deal.
“It is obvious right now that the opinion of the people has changed,” said Cartwright. “That is not only on behalf of the Remainers, but even many of the Leavers don’t want the type of Brexit agreement that Theresa May has come up with.
“Sky News recently conducted a poll that suggested that 54% of the UK population want a people’s vote so that has been a big shift. Among the MPs, I am 100% sure that a majority want a People’s Vote, and those that don’t express their views publicly do so only because they are under the party whip.”
The unexpected events of May 2016 have brought some real challenges to Gibraltar’s position. In what proved to be a misguided move, David Cameron sought to unite the Conservative party with a referendum designed to kill the Brexit issue for ten years.
When it was lost amid promises which could never be kept, Gibraltar found itself in the unenviable place of being the only British territory on the European mainland. With a traditionally hostile neighbour always keen to make our way difficult, the EU went from being a considerate ally to an adversary that put a very big weight behind that same Spanish claim which defied our basic right to self-determination.
“When the EU gave Spain a veto over any agreement which it finalised with the UK, many people in Gibraltar went ballistic,” admitted the government worker. “After the territory voted overwhelmingly voted for EU membership, they were shocked that all of a sudden the EU had become our enemies.
“But what people don’t understand that Gibraltar is now with the rest of the UK in the same boat as Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although all three voted to stay, the majority is what is being applied as regards the advisory referendum. They won’t look at us as the enemy but as one of those dealing with them on the other side of the table.”
Cartwright believes that with the deal being unsatisfactorily for both sides of the spectrum, there is now more of a call than ever before to establish what is the democratic will of the people once we know what sort of deal we could really get from the EU.
“Whether we like it or not, Brexit has developed in the sense that we now have more MPs in favour of giving a last word to the people,” he said. “Right now, we do not want to stop Brexit, but what we are asking for is a People’s Vote with three options. The first would be to accept Theresa May’s agreement, the second which would be to go-ahead with a no-deal nobody wants or to remain in the EU.
“We want to give that vote to all UK citizens, who know more than anyone else in Europe, more about what the EU is now. Before we didn’t have a clue what the EU did, but we all now know the role they play after the negotiations that have gone on.”
Defiant Cartwright does not even want another deal to be worked out, although he is almost certain that if Theresa May is still Prime Minister come 29 March, she will make sure the UK will leave the EU.
“If for any reason whatsoever this is almost impossible to achieve, then she would have no other option but to ask the EU for an extension,” he continued, explaining the current political chaos very succinctly. “But I doubt that Theresa May would continue being Prime Minister, because businesses want to know what they have to do.
“On the other hand, even though the Labour Party wants a general election, it has not ruled out a people’s vote. What would be in Labour’s favour would be to join forces with the Liberal Democrats to give the option to the people with the three options I outlined before.
“The People’s Vote could also happen if Theresa May realises she has done all she could do and it would be impossible for her to carry on. At that point she would put forward a motion which would be voted on to pass it over to the people.”
Although Cartwright sincerely believes that there is a strong chance Brexit will not occur, he fears what could happen at the border if it does.
“Will all the Spanish cross-frontier workers come in and out of Gibraltar as they please?” he asked. “While that is good for our economy, will we be limited about how many times we can cross, whether we have health insurance over there or queue for hours? That is what I am worried about.
“I can understand us leaving the EU, but if the Irish are going to get special conditions, I don’t want Gibraltar to be left out. History tells us that that the Good Friday agreement kept the troubles away in Ireland, but people forget that people of my age only saw the border open when I was 18-years-old.
“While I was lucky to get out of Gibraltar on holiday, so many of my colleagues were stuck here in a ‘prison’. Neither do I want to go back to eight or nine hour queues like we experienced in 2013, especially as we were part of the EU longer than Spain was.
“Ever since that frontier opened we’ve had issues at that border, at sea and with our airspace. And this was all as EU brothers and sisters. Can you imagine what will happen when we are no longer part of the EU? We have never been in this situation, as it was the EU who forced them to open the border.”
He thinks that the distance from the UK makes it very difficult for them to vouch for our interests so they should vouch for the same sort of soft border that operates between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“We currently have a hard border with Spain,” said Cartwright. “We are not part of Schengen or the Customs Union so there are four controls going into Gibraltar. If Northern Ireland have a soft border and they are going to make it into a hard border, if we have a hard border what what are we going to make it into?
“Even if we do form part of that that transition period, I do not trust Spain or the UK Government. That is why I feel the best deal for the UK and Gibraltar is to remain in the EU, as they are the only ones who have defended us in the past. Once we do not have any MEPs looking after us, who is going to protect our interests?
“It is also vital that if we do eventually leave the EU, we it would need an MP in the UK Parliament. Spain has been bullying us for many years and after Brexit it will only get worse, as we could become the scapegoat of the EU’s discord with the UK.”