Why Gibraltar backs remaining in the EU

Spain’s aggressive stance towards the Rock is only one of the reasons why 88 per cent will vote to stay in Europe

Spain’s aggressive stance towards the Rock is only one of the reasons why 88 per cent will vote to stay in Europe

There have been moments in recent weeks when polls on the outcome of the June 23 EU referendum have been so close that I have wondered if, just maybe, the 23,000 voters I represent as chief minister of Gibraltar might be the ones that swing the vote to Remain.

Statistically, we represent a fifth of the number of people who will be attending the Glastonbury Festival that same day. So that seems an unlikely situation.

And you could be forgiven for wondering why people in Gibraltar are in the slightest bit excited at the prospect of voting at all.

One Spanish right-wing politician, who I know does not have our best interests at heart and whose father served as a minister for Franco, has suggested in the media that we are mistaken in backing the Remain campaign and that we should have remained neutral and watched the way the wind blows.

That same politician knows that Spain’s aggressive stance towards the Rock is only one of the reasons why, according to a recent poll, at least 85 per cent will turn out to vote and 88 per cent of them vote to stay in Europe. Making life at the border miserable is just one of Madrid’s party tricks.

Spain’s right-wing People’s Party government has been hell-bent on treating us like squatters in our own land, squeezing our economy where it can and trying to cut us off. We are here to stay. We are a tough lot and the many friends we have in Britain, Bremainers and Brexiteers, respect us for that and for our candour. Whatever happens, our future is with the UK and in remaining British.

But our membership of the EU with the UK has meant Spain has had to recognise that the border between us must operate to the standards of an internal EU border, although we are not part of Schengen. That is core to the free movement of people and goods and has important implications for industries on the Rock, because Gibraltar is one of the main employers in the region.

Apart from the 7,000 day workers who come in from what is one of the most deprived areas of Andalucia to work on the Rock, with the protection of EU rights such as equal pay, maternity and sick leave, many expatriates find a quality of life – all-year golf, for starters – which they can balance by having weekend homes in areas like Sotogrande while living in smaller pads on the Rock itself.

Remaining in the EU is an ambition that is not in the slightest bit related to any desire on our part to see a federal future, and certainly not because we enjoy endless reams of legislation which are either burdensome for many of our citizens and businessmen or, quite frankly, often totally irrelevant to a country our size.

We had to sue Britain to get the right to vote in European Parliamentary elections – we do so graciously alongside the South West of England – and we have slogged hard to get where we are as a premier finance centre.

But the very stringent rules and regulations governing trade and standards that the EU imposes are crucial for ensuring that Gibraltar has access to the whole of the European market in services and goods. We sell insurance, banking services and many financial products, having fought to ensure that our authorities and institutions are recognised and meet the standards set by international bodies such as the OECD and IMF. That has given us a platform for our business model as an EU financial centre that is recognised internationally as operating to the same standards as the City of London.

The past 25 years have seen us transform from a tax haven model to a leading jurisdiction of compliance. It was my pleasure just four weeks ago to have Gibraltar sign up to a commitment to embrace the G5 initiative on automatic exchange of beneficial ownership, along with EU member states.

This initiative is designed to be the global standard in the area of transparency, just as the Common Reporting Standard has become in the field of automatic information exchange for tax purposes, which Gibraltar also joined in 2014. Entities covered by this agreement will be those already identified in the Fourth Anti Money Laundering Directive which Gibraltar is transposing. A critical part of the initiative on beneficial ownership requires a strict application of data protection and confidentiality by all countries and territories that participate.

My position is simple in this respect. Gibraltar will adhere to internationally agreed principles of cooperation that deliver a level playing field, and we are at the forefront of compliance along with the United Kingdom and other EU states.

The EU’s Single Market has over 500m customers. That is a great opportunity for all entrepreneurs. It is by far Gibraltar’s biggest market, and being in the Single Market makes it easier and cheaper for Gibraltar companies to sell their services.

Financial services, online gaming, and tourism all sustain good jobs and create prosperity for a people who in 1984 were still in a world where the economy was near 70 per cent dominated by the Ministry of Defence. That was the year that Margaret Thatcher told us that the Rock’s future was to be built by us on the economic pillars of a commercial dockyard, tourism and financial services. And we did just that by building our successful economic model on our EU membership.

This club works for us and this Rock’s not for turning. Why on earth would we choose to slide back down the ladder to start all over again? That’s why we will overwhelmingly vote to remain.

Fabian Picardo QC MP is chief minister of Gibraltar.

Published CityAm 18 May 2016

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