How We Could Cope With Brexit – Making The Best Of The Worst Case Scenario

It is true that a Brexit would represent an existential crisis to Gibraltar. But how do we prepare for an existential future as a nation? In this piece, I explore a couple of options.

montytalks

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…

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[From March 2016] The EU Is Not An Infringement Of Sovereignty, But An Extension Of It

When participating in a discussion with just about anyone who is leaning towards the option of a Brexit at the June referendum, it becomes clear that their reasons for doing so tend to be reactionary and nationalistic; riled up by immigration into Britain that has, in their eyes, undermined British values – whatever they may objectively be.

After much prodding and mildly intellectual critiquing, the Brexiter often resorts to the notion that ‘we must reclaim our sovereignty’. Ignoring that this is, in many cases, an attempt to move the goalposts and shroud an intolerant ‘other’-fearing set of prejudices, one feels obliged to unpack the term and consider the argument regardless as it is the last leg that the Brexiter stands on.

Sovereignty is commonly defined as the power of the State to rule itself. This contains within the definition the ability to pass legislation, hold elections, garner allegiances and so on. Implicit in sovereignty is that Governments can rule by the State, through the State, and for the State. This is to say that the nation has the power to autonomously decide where its best interests lie as a totality. This is precisely the political model that Gibraltar has so successfully incorporated, mastered and continues to flourish in.

For Gibraltar, it is understood as self-evident that the Rock is in some ways a pebble among gargantuan boulders. Simply comparing the geographical clout between Gibraltar and Spain is like considering the size of a grain of sand on Catalan Bay to the actual great Rock of Splendour itself. Therefore, it has been paramount for the smaller nation to build relations on the international scene in order to protect her interests, both economically and politically. For the Rock, it is a matter of survival when a belligerent Spain requires Gibraltar to muster her allies so that the bully does not get her way.

The same is true when it comes to the UK and Europe at large. Brexiters point to Greece as an example of how the EU is in contradiction to the sovereignty ideal – although Greece is not rich at the moment, this claim certainly is, as the country its still very keen on remaining in Europe in order to replace its economic authoritarianism. Indeed, it could change if enough member states wanted it to do. Unfortunately it’s abundantly clear that austerity is the only game in town in the eyes of the UK Government as they have accepted the economic model that forced Greece to its knees with cuts galore.

Greece understands the strength of Europe and its ability to do good if it stood together on a progressive platform and is not a credible argument to use in favour of leaving the EU. Furthermore, it is a much recycled lie that is spouted by Farage and Brexiters alike that 75% (the figure varies but the claim is frequently as high as that) of legislation affecting the UK is made in Brussels or Strasbourg instead of the House of Commons. This is empirically wrong and wholly deceitful. Academics suggest that the figure resides somewhere in between the 8 to 14% mark.

Even then, the House of Commons has to stamp it through before it becomes law – not a single jot of legislation is ‘forced upon’ the UK without them having a say. Brexiters often cite the agreement that the Norway or Switzerland have as part of the European Economic Area. However, the irony is that in the Swiss and Norwegian model they are subject to forced regulations and legislation as part of the single market without having faintest opportunity of blocking or approving what is put on the table – entirely the opposite of what Brexiters say they want to achieve by leaving the EU! Indeed, Norwegian MP Nikolai Astrup famously submitted that If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area.”

A Brexit would give up these rights, thus denying Britain of the sovereignty it currently holds. It would also create grave problems in the sovereignty priorities of Gibraltar and Scotland who both want a European Britain that would allow them to secure their national interest. Exiting the EU will undoubtedly damage the fabric of Britain, with prominent Scottish voices wanting to establish independence while remaining in the EU, and a Gibraltar facing an existential threat from Margallo and the Spanish Establishment next door. The Chief Minister was right to say that a Brexit would be a betrayal to Gibraltar…but it would also be a betrayal to Britain and all that is valuable in honest and factual discussion of a vital international issue.

MM

[From April 2016] Direct Tool

Just two months from now, the UK will vote on its future with the European Union. While 30,000 votes could sway the outcome, a Brexit result could foresee a dramatic heightening of cross-border tension – and if you believe Mr. Margallo, the closure of the frontier itself.

Indeed, Margallo claimed recently in Argentina that the UK and Spain are once again prepared to discuss joint-sovereignty proposals over Gibraltar. One hopes, as the Leader of the Opposition has affirmed, that this man’s assertions are gravely out of touch with reality. However, he is not the only man this week to have had the most unfortunate disadvantage of being empirically, historically and morally wrong.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested, as a reaction to the Panama Papers leak, that Gibraltar (among other nations of similar territorial status) should be governed by direct rule. In other words, Corbyn is of the opinion that dissolving Gibraltar’s democratically elected national parliament achieved by civilians through decades of struggle and directing Gibraltar’s affairs from the House of Commons would be the solution to clamping down on tax avoidance. This is rich on so many levels.

Firstly, it has not yet been shown in the Panama Papers by the ICIJ (the investigative journalists studying the leak) that Gibraltar has been involved. The Rock is not even mentioned as far as local news sources understand. Therefore, it makes no sense to impose direct rule on a nation that is up to date with international law and UK standards regarding its tax regime when the Cayman Islands, for instance, can actually legitimately be called a tax haven.

Secondly, even if Gibraltar did appear in the Panama Papers leak, direct rule would not be the means to the end of greater economic justice. It is not enough that the Rock complies with EU tax law. It must also have a moral obligation to ensure that people do not bend the rules and that money that would be used for vital public services securely get there. But direct rule is not the way. Corbyn may not be aware that our democratic process allows for our people to change the way our government enforces and regulates taxation. Most ethically competent people want an end to the injustice of embezzlement and fraud in all it’s forms but they can be tackled in two more agreeable ways: either get the international community together democratise global tax legislation and make it impossible for the richest to virtually get away with murder, or incentivise places with tax regimes like the Rock’s to vet out any shady exploiters.

Thirdly, Corbyn’s plea for direct rule leaves a vile taste in the mouth for anyone who considers themselves an anti-imperalist or a democratic socialist. He would not only be turning back the clock, but he would be turning against his comrades and supporters who do not want Britain to be acting in an imperialist fashion any longer. We have seen now that, for many in Westminster, their delusions of grandeur remain regardless of their alleged position on the political spectrum. We do not need Westminster telling us to do what we already can, while also sending us back to pre-war colonialism. He should trust the Gibraltarian people. Granted, Corbyn can recommend a course of action to the Government with regards to tax legislation – it may be an arrogant thing to do but it is still far better than direct rule.

The most recent threat of direct rule was in the mid-1990s at the height of drug smuggling in the bay which resulted in rioting and disarray. To make such a call is rare but must be shouted down immediately. It is not the time for this delusion from the Labour leader. Especially when equally deluded remarks are being made by Mr Margallo. Gibraltar could potentially face an existential threat with a Brexit vote and its consequences, as well as with talk of renewed joint-sovereignty proposals. Direct rule would be a crisis for Gibraltar and it would not solve any problems that it might have intended to. Brexit (and the notion of a closed border), joint-sovereignty proposals and direct rule will all be contrary to the wishes of the majority of the Rock and they are all worth fighting to avoid.

MM

How We Could Cope With Brexit – Making The Best Of The Worst Case Scenario

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.

MM

Crimson

You can smoke it all a way
Til you find it is your dying day
And I’ll be coughing crimson til I’m done

But we’re still young
And there’s places to go and races to run
As long as the earth can love the sun

Don’t let Jesus spoil your fun
As he solemnly waits for his long lost son
On your marks I hear the starting gun

It can get too much I know
When you’re feelings grow and they start to show
That appearance does not match reality

But stay with me
I beg of you stay with me for a while
I just want to see your eternal smile

Finish your cigarette
The song is sung and the state is set
Kiss me so we just can’t forget

MM

Shelter

Can you hear the silence?
Can you see the darkness?
Help me fix the broken
To show me where my heart is

As the sighing summer sun
Frowns at me in hot contempt
All hope in me does lie in you
And the letters that I wish I sent

From the slumber of my days
To the hazy evening light
You remain the one I need
Just keep me sheltered through the night

Like a song that’s left unsung
The pages burnt before they’re read
Or a flower that dies in early spring
You’re but a concept stuck in my head

And it pains to see you so
To make the stars align for me
To end all conflict and suffering
To solve the world and worlds to come

In the hour of my return
Fondly my eyes will meet yours
It was written so it shall be done
You are the hands to heal my sores

MM

Maria’s Lament

Maria she speaks of the rainbow
And the ship of Ulysses
Her triumph is her denial
Since she began to breathe

And the poet dreams of a moment
A turning point in time
To lead comrades into the battle
To win the hearts and minds

The jester sings of longing
The peddler listens close
Nothing has been left for him
Just mischief and morose

But Maria will be gone for the summer
She’s eager for spring to end
The frightfulness of seeking love
While losing your closest friend

Still she’ll soldier on in the blooming
As she builds a strong facade
She moves just like the weather
But her silence feels like mud

The poet can’t stay quiet
For he knows what lies beneath
His respect for her is sturdy
But he has wisdom to bequeath

Does he bother with trivial matters
When the stakes are set so high
Wasting air on a young girl’s promise
The revolution it passes by

The jester he grows restless
I’m lost out here he moans
But the peddler taps his shoulder
Says you need not cry alone

Maria whispers to the window
Is there a heart for sale or rent
The night it takes no prisoners
The day is discontent

It’s a war of attrition
The poet assures the kid
You’ll find your answer girl
To all the problems that you hid

And all the while we wait for wonder
We wait for the first rainbow
To lift us from our slumber
And make our lives to grow

MM