Gibraltar’s chief minister on Brexit… and monkey Viagra?

Gibraltarian politicians are campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU in next month’s referendum. But Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said the outcome won’t affect the territory’s relationship to Britain.

In an exclusive interview, Picardo told euractiv.com News Editor James Crisp that there is a reserve fund for Viagra to maintain Gibraltar’s “healthy” ape population. Legend has it that if the apes disappear, Gibraltar will stop being British.

What exactly is at stake for Gibraltar in the upcoming referendum?

Well, as much as the United Kingdom has at stake in this referendum, Gibraltar has a stake in this referendum. Continued membership of the European Union for Gibraltar depends on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU. And that’s why the prime minister agreed to my request that the people of Gibraltar, who are European citizens – British citizens resident in Gibraltar and therefore in the European Union and in the European continent – should be able to vote in this referendum.

How many people live in Gibraltar? How many voters are there?

There are 32,000 people living in Gibraltar and 23,000 of those will make up those eligible to vote in Gibraltar in the EU referendum.

Do you have a sense about which way they’ll be voting? Is there a Brexit camp in Gibraltar?

There’s no campaign in Gibraltar for leaving the EU. All of the political parties, all of my predecessors as chief minister, all of the trade unions, all the employers representative organisations… all of us are united in arguing for the United Kingdom, and for Gibraltar with it, to remain within the EU on the 23rd of June.

We’ve heard a lot of talk from the Scottish nationalists that if Scotland was taken out of the EU on the basis of an English vote, that they’d be looking for a second independence referendum. Are there any similar feelings in Gibraltar, that Gibraltar would be looking for a different status to the rest of the UK?

The British people of Gibraltar feel exactly that – British and Gibraltarian. And the result of the EU referendum is not going to change that. If we find ourselves on the morning of the 24th with a vote to leave the European Union, our relationship with the European Union in future will be shaped by the negotiation the United Kingdom is able to have about its relationship for access to the single market. But it’s not going to change our Britishness and it’s not going to stop the Union Jack from flying over the rock.

I’m trying to get a sense of how important EU membership is to the everyday lives of a normal Gibraltarian. Would leaving have any practical or immediate negative impacts on day to day lives in Gibraltar?

Let me give you two examples of how leaving the EU might impact a Gibraltarian’s life on a normal day. First of all, jobs are at stake. If we can’t sell services into the single market of 520 million people, then our financial services might suffer. Our ability to sell other services into the EU, online gaming services for example, might suffer. The ability to pop over to Spain to see relatives, to shop, or for people pop into Gibraltar as tourists, or for 10,000 people to cross into Gibraltar to work in our economy everyday – all of that is at stake.

In particular, if the position taken is the position which the current caretaker foreign minister of Spain has espoused already, that Gibraltar would need to accept joint sovereignty with Spain to continue to have access to the single market, I can tell him the answer to that today. We’re never going to accept joint sovereignty as a price for anything. We’re never going to be blackmailed. So that’s what’s at stake for Gibraltar.

We’ve seen from Vote Leave, from Leave EU, Grassroots Out, that there’s a lot of patriotic posturing. Do you have a message for people like UKIP, who claim to put the love of country above everything else?

Nobody loves the United Kingdom and nobody loves Gibraltar more than I do. And I think it’s impossible to claim that the prime minister of the United Kingdom is not a patriotic man, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a patriotic man, that the leaders of all the political parties in the United Kingdom and in Gibraltar are not patriotic.

Of course we’re all patriotic. What does patriotism mean? It means ensuring the prosperity of your nation and it means ensuring that you open your nation up to trade with the rest of the world. For goodness sake, the British Empire was based on trading with the world. Here we are today as part of the largest trading block in the world, about to do deals with other large trading blocks which will expand our ability to sell into a huge market, and there are people saying that we are not patriotic? How dare they!

I ask them, once again, to send particulars and explain to us how they will ensure the prosperity of the United Kingdom, the nations that make it up and the nation of Gibraltar on the morning of the 24th if they’ve persuaded people to make a decision to leave the European Union.

What would be your message to institutions like the European Commission or the European Council? There must be a reason why there’s been this rise in Euroscepticism across Europe. Is it because they’re doing something wrong?

Look, I think it’s very clear that the European institutions have disaffected people. They have not connected to people. They are too bureaucratic. They need to be much more open to the European citizen.

Of course I understand why Euroscepticism has risen in Britain. I don’t think you’ll find many politicians, even those of us who are arguing to remain within the European Union after the 23rd, that do not have a healthy dose of Euroscepticism about us these days. It’s important for the EU to reform, it’s important that the EU be made more competitve, that it be more connected to its people and I think the Prime Minister has led on starting that process with some of the reforms that we’ve seen.

That should only be the beginning. People need to feel connected to the institutions that represent them. If you look at a place like the United States of America, for example, where the Senate and the Congress are directly elected, and the president is directly elected – I think if we want to see ourselves working in a way that is not a “United States of Europe”, but in a way that is more representative, then we need to move away from a Europe of appointments at the top to a Europe of direct election at the top.

That is hugely important, so that the people who sit in these institutions, who may do a good job, are directly connected to the people who they do the job for.

I have one last question. There’s a famous myth about Gibraltar, or maybe it’s a legend, about the monkeys. Are you worried that if we go out, the monkeys will leave Gibraltar? Because I believe that means that the island is going to fall into catastrophe.

Well, we have a very healthy population of monkeys in Gibraltar, so it’s not an issue that concerns me. But there’s a little fact that you might not be aware of, and that your viewers might not be aware of, which is that the government of Gibraltar has a reserve fund for ape Viagra to make sure that the consequences of the apes leaving Gibraltar never visits us.

So they’re safe, Brexit or no Brexit?

Yes. And Gibraltar will always be British.

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