Gibraltar values being British as much as Northern Ireland does

Gibraltar's coast
Gibraltar's coast

Gibraltar and Northern Ireland are united by more than British heritage, ideals and freedoms.

We are both part of the British family of nations and Gibraltar values its links to the United Kingdom as profoundly as Northern Ireland values being a part of the United Kingdom.

Dr Joseph Garcia, Gibraltar's chief minister

Dr Joseph Garcia, Gibraltar's chief minister

It is no secret that Gibraltar is proudly British. But what many of you may not know is that Northern Ireland was home to around 5,000 Gibraltarians during one of the most difficult periods of our history.

During World War II, almost the entire population of Gibraltar was evacuated out of fear of an imminent Spanish-assisted German invasion.

Sixteen camps spread amongst the Ballymena and Broughshane areas of Co Antrim, Co Down and Co Londonderry housed our evacuees. It was as a result of the seeds sewn during that time that the Borough of Ballymena and Gibraltar were officially twinned in 2006.

Today, we do not face a common enemy but we do face a challenge that is common to both us. The Brexit challenge has raised questions on borders which ought to have been left in our history books.

Immediately after the referendum, the then incumbent Spanish Foreign Minister rubbed his hands in glee at the prospect of closing the border with Gibraltar – something which the Spanish dictator, General Franco, did in 1969. For 16 years we had the hardest of hard borders.

Understandably, not least because of the Troubles, citizens on the island of Ireland have feared that Brexit could bring back the physical demarcation of the border that separates the North and South.

Separately, there is comprehensible anxiety in Northern Ireland of being separated from the rest of the United Kingdom by a regulatory barrier.

What is absolutely clear though is that the only way to quell those concerns and tackle those issues is through an agreement with the EU that provides for a sensible, orderly and well-managed Brexit.

In Gibraltar, London and elsewhere, in tandem with the UK government, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that Gibraltar forms part of the now endorsed Withdrawal Agreement and transitional arrangements.

The agreement works for Gibraltar and our Protocol addresses issues which are of specific importance to citizens and businesses in Gibraltar and the neighbouring region of Spain.

Like Northern Ireland we now look to the future, not the past. The UK will negotiate the future agreements implementing the Political Declaration for the whole of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar. In doing so we are confident that the UK government will take account of Gibraltar’s specific interests.

With respect to Northern Ireland, the UK government has also set out that it will replace the backstop solution with arrangements that will ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland or a splitting of the UK customs territory.

Let us be clear though. The bonds that unite us as part of the UK family will remain firmly intact. Those bonds, built over generations spanning centuries, will not be shaken by 45 years of membership of the EU. In Gibraltar we voted 96% to remain in the EU. But if the choice were ever a choice between the EU and the UK I would expect a similar result in the opposite direction. We will stick with Britain.

Dr Garcia is Gibraltar’s deputy chief minister