WHENEVER things get difficult, Gibraltarians have to remind all who care to listen that we are British.
Only recently our current Chief Minister, Mr Picardo gave a typically eloquent ‘red, white and blue’ speech which earned him a round of applause at a parliamentary select committee meeting in Westminster.
Lately, I have been wondering what other group of people are so regularly forced to proclaim their nationality. It is not as if Gibraltarians are recent British citizens.
Many if not most of us can trace our “Britishness” to the middle of the 18th Century if not earlier.
Should I start resenting the pressure to make, or have Gibraltar’s political leaders repeat these autos da fé with such indecent regularity?
The Gibraltarian privateering fleet held the defence of this key to the Mediterranean at a time when Nelson’s fleet was otherwise engaged.
Please keep your suggestions of piracy to yourself; the use of private ships of war has always been common in naval warfare.
Would Britain have defeated Napoleon at Trafalgar were it not for Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians? Indeed, would the Allies have been able to beat Rommel in North Africa and then carry out the invasion of Italy if General Eisenhower had not had his headquarters in Gibraltar in 1942?
Yes, I am getting a little bit sore with having to repeat that we are British.
From 1968 to 1982 my fellow citizens endured a siege from Spain whilst London had relatively friendly relations with Franco in Madrid.
In the Second World War my grandfather fought for King and Country in Burma.
As a lawyer I place a lot of importance on the concept of citizenship.
It is a concept that is near the centre of jurisprudence.
Recently I have written in the Olive Press about my own view that European citizenship for those British citizens who have it will survive a BREXIT.
Citizenship, I repeat, is a crucial right and I do not believe that Gibraltarians should be forced to have to proclaim it at every turn.
The inhabitants of the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla are not required to reiterate their Spanishness.
Sir Mo Farah, the champion Olympic runner who came to Britain when he was a child in the late 1980’s and has been living in the US for the last 6 years, isn’t asked whether he is British.
He isn’t asked because everybody knows that he, like the Gibraltarians, is British and it would be the height of rudeness to ask him.
Which brings me to another point which is that by being forced by circumstances to repeat our centuries’ old nationality, we necessarily curtail the discussion that we are able to have with the Spanish political establishment.
Hardly has any form of sensible debate begun but that we have to tell the Spaniards that we are different from them.
Not better, not worse, but different and from there the discussion sours.
Over the last few years I have been working to try to develop an understanding among young Spaniards as to what Gibraltar is.
Much of the Spanish media, particularly between August 2013 and the middle of 2015 depicted Gibraltarians as ruthless squatters on Spanish land.
Many will recall the unfortunate YouTube clip of a school play in the village of Alfajarín near Zaragoza in which pupils dressed up as Civil Guards, shooting dead other pupils acting as Gibraltarians.
There were many similar incidents which there is no point in repeating now.
The antidote for misunderstandings, let alone hatred, is of course information.
So, I have involved myself in helping put together lectures on English law for Spanish students in Gibraltar on English law.
They are able to come to Gibraltar and see for themselves that Gibraltar is not just the cheap tobacco shops of Irish Town and the ubiquitous jewellers on Main Street.
There is a centuries’ old society here.
Nobody who visits the Court House, built to dispense law among Gibraltarians in the 1750’s, or the Garrison Library of 1793 or the Parliament building of 1817 can fail to appreciate it.
Last year, I attended a talk by the Mayor of Essaouira, the Moroccan MP Asma Chaabi.
She recalls bringing a group of pupils from a school in Tangiers to Gibraltar in 1994.
She says that even today many of her students who are by now prominent in the Moroccan professions, business, the civil service and the military recall with great affection their visit to the Rock so many years ago.
The problems of this region are not solved by dressing up in flags but in welcoming each other.
Then we can all see that our differences do not divide us but can create positive relationships of respect and affection in the pursuit of peace and prosperity
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