One would have to try their utmost in order to hide from the referendum debate, even temporarily. To an extent, this is a gratifying thumbs-up for the democratic process when so many people are expressing their opinion on such an important vote. Indeed, even the younger demographic have shown that the label of ‘apathetic’ is far too over-utilised. This is because they understand that the outcome of this referendum could have constitutional consequences, not least to Gibraltar’s status.
Fellow university students that are in touch with UK politics will undoubtedly have witnessed the divisive, derisory and dehumanising tactics used by the Leave campaign, especially regarding the immigration debate. Certainly, tapping into the fears of the public on the strain of public services by referencing immigration is the only tool left in the shed for the Brexiteers, who have lost every other argument (and are on course to lose this one too, if common-sense and decency prevails). This is despite the fact that it is thanks to immigrants that many public services across the UK are still running, more so in the face of the Conservative Government’s cut-and-run economic policy. From Boris Johnson MP to Zac Goldsmith, Nigel Farage to Michael Gove MP – the Leave agenda is full to the brim with names that are either stoking right-wing xenophobia for their political gain, or they actually believe the lies and lunacy that they propagate. Whichever is the case, it now seems that we have a clear moral, as well as political imperative, to vote Remain. If Boris will not be happy with that, he can tell the press that I have an anti-empire sentiment due to my Gibraltarian identity or my Italian ancestry – or whatever sort of cobblers that will get him on the front page.
However, all this does not detract from the slim (independent polls generally have Remain in the lead) possibility that the referendum result will dictate that the UK leave the EU. Given that there is a strong majority set to vote to Remain in the EU, it is worth thinking about what direction Gibraltar could take should we be faced with the worst possible scenario: the Brexit. There are just two identifiably legitimate and plausible directions. Of course, we could have some form of the status quo, but one is assuming that an ‘OUT’ vote makes the status quo untenable when the UK votes to leave the EU, yet Gibraltar opts to stay. Furthermore, I am dismissing the prospect of any joint-sovereignty deals or negotiations with the Spanish Government because, thankfully, the Gibraltarian people would reject anything along those lines. These two options can be defined as follows: UK ‘integration’ and EU ‘integration’. It is necessary to state that I am not advocating either of these approaches, but rather opening up the discussion so both options can be studied, explored and debated. Also necessary to note is the use of the word ‘integration’ – I mean this word in its loosest form as the two routes would, as I propose them, ideally solidify and progress the things we have accomplished as a de facto autonomous British Gibraltarian nation such as our right to self-determination.
First, consider the UK ‘integration’ option. Andrew Rosindell MP has been the most recent political figure on the Leave campaign to suggest that Gibraltar should have its own Member of Parliament of the House of Commons. Initially, one might be taken aback instead of enticed as this would represent more of a backward step in our national narrative. Granted, under normal conditions, this would not appeal to the many Gibraltarians who have seen decades of constitutional progress without the need for an MP sitting in the UK – Albert Poggio has shown that we can maintain connections with politicians in Westminster without an MP for years. However, if vote Leave prevails, we may have to consider what we would do with a seat in the Commons. The UK ‘integration’ option would be to hold Rosindell to his promise and unite for a Gibraltar that is treated as just as part of mainland Britain as any other constituency represented in the House. This would be a unique model for an ex-colony and would be an almost avant garde way of looking at the nation-state. An adaptation of this route could be inspired by Scotland’s model of devolution (incidentally, the Scots may end up on the same boat as us, as it is likely that a majority of them will vote Remain). Obviously, it would not be easy and there are many problems that would have to be debated – for instance, what is the relation between the Gibraltar MP in Westminster and the Gibraltar Government? Would the GoG become a council-type entity? All these questions and more are the purpose of opening this discussion.
The questions and answers that arise from the discussion of this issue should also address criticisms like: Why would we integrate with a country who opted to leave the EU when we voted to stay in? How do we convince the UK to treat us like a mainland constituency when the growing trend of opinion with regards to Gibraltar (sadly) seems to depict it as a liability or an unnecessary cost? Why would we join a UK who’s Government is cutting on everything it can get its hands on, and could be lead by the likes of Boris Johnson MP in the near future? Some might also point out that it is still a possibility that Jeremy Corbyn MP could be Prime Minister soon – an undesirable prospect if his views on Gibraltar are not changed by then. At the minute, the circumstances seem very bleak, but once again, we are imagining the worst case scenario. If these questions do not make you want to vote to Remain and avoid all these possible considerations, there is not much more that will.
Turning to the second option, EU ‘integration’, this promptly answers the aforementioned question: “Why would we integrate with a country who opted to leave the EU when we voted to stay in?”. Under the EU ‘integration’ option, we would use our Remain vote in order to campaign to be a European city-state, backed by EU forces. One must clarify that being a city-state does not mean that the territory in question is not a nation. The word is misleading but a European city-state in this context means an independent nation that has constitutional association with the EU. City-states are named as so simply because they are nations that have a comparably smaller population than a regular ‘nation-state’. This would be a radical move but definitely worth researching. Malta and Luxembourg currently have this kind of status as full members of the European Union, but other city-states that are not as large as Malta have achieved special relations with the EU. For example, San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein among others. This would unquestionably subject to negotiations with the relevant European political and diplomatic groups, but in principle this model would allow us to reap the benefits that we have enjoyed as a member of the EU and we would not suffer directly and substantially at the hands of a Brexit vote. We have the tools to make such an argument to split from the UK in favour of this modern European status. Not only would we have the referendum results to point to, but we have our right to self-determination which is backed by the European Union and relevant supra-national bodies that are superior and wholly more legitimate than Spain’s claim. Any Spanish claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar would be automatically rejected by the EU by virtue of us being a sovereign European city-state. We also satisfy the established litmus test in political academic circles for a claim to ‘secede’ from the UK and opt for the sovereign city-state model. These were put forward by Miller and Gibraltar lives up to the five conditions of nationhood: A sense of community, aspirations for political autonomy, shared history, attachment to the territory and a distinct public culture. In theory, this seems like an avenue that Gibraltar could aspire to, if not in the event of a Brexit, maybe in future generations.
Equally, this option can be criticised. Questions can be asked about whether we can trust a European Union which is a democratic institution that arguably does not go far enough in its use of democracy. Should we integrate into a political institution that has, in an almost authoritarian sense, been an advocate of austerity? If we accept that premise, we ought to ask ourselves whether the European Union can democratise at all – to which I agree with Yanis Varoufakis when he replies in the affirmative, but only if there is a European wide movement to meet those ends. Many will also be rightly sceptical in the practical upshot when it comes to relations with Spain and the United Kingdom. Will the move to becoming a European city-state really drop Spain’s claim on Gibraltar? How will we maintain relations with the UK?
Some of the questions I have raised may not even be relevant in the reader’s eyes. These are by no means the only questions that should be addressed. But I should hope that it would get a few minds wondering about how we might choose our political destiny should the Brexit render the status quo untenable. If Brexit represents an ‘existential crisis’ to Gibraltar, we must commit to an existential future.