GIBRALTARIANS have “British blood in our veins” – and the close “emotional link” between the Rock and the UK means it will always choose Britain over the EU, regardless of whatever happens with Brexit, Chief Miniser Fabian Picardo has said.
Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly Remain three years ago – but Mr Picardo told Express.co.uk regardless of the result, he and the rest of the British overseas territory would always put the UK first. He said: “When the time came, despite having voted 96 percent to remain in the European Union, when the decision came, we were always going to choose our link with the United Kingdom over the link with the European Union and the single market, not just because it made economic sense, but for us it made emotional sense too. “This is where we have been misinterpreted by some aspects of the Spanish political spectrum, who have thought that this was their moment because we were going to lose access to the single market and therefore we would fall into their laps.
“But actually it turned out when we did the analysis, 95 percent of the business that we do, using single market rules, is with the UK.
“But let me assure you that if it had be the other way around, and we had done five percent of our business in the UK and 95 percent of our business in Europe, if the UK was choosing to leave the European Union, we would still have left with the UK.
“Because the link between us, there’s nothing economic here, it’s an emotional link, a human link.
“This is about thinking both with our heads and our hearts, it’s not about making a choice which is right for our pockets, and that’s the thing the Spanish have never really understood.
“They’ve always thought that they could get at us through our pockets but we have got British blood running through our veins and that’s what matters.”
Mr Picardo, 47, said he had “made peace” with the UK’s decision to quit the European Union three years ago.
He said: “From the moment that the result was announced we have been the ones most assiduously working for a successful Brexit.
“We would still very much not want Brexit but that’s in the realm of hope, not in the realms of political reality and as Boris Johnson was saying in his video speech to the people of Gibraltar on our national day on September 10, politicians don’t get to choose which referenda they respect.
“Obviously that touches a nerve with Gibraltarians because we’ve had two referenda on whether or not to remain British, one in 1967 organised by the UK, and another which had to be organised by the people of Gibraltar and their Government in 2002, where we were actually battling the UK, the Labour Government of Tony Blair and Jack Straw and Peter Hain, to allow us to stay British.
“We have been working very hard indeed to make Brexit a success for Gibraltar, and I am confident now, having done three-and-a-half years of very hard work indeed that hard Brexit, no Brexit or Brexit with a deal, Gibraltar will not just survive it will thrive, and in great measure thanks to the work that we have been able to do with the current administration.
Nevertheless, he fully acknowledged nobody could have predicted the turmoil which would follow the referendum result in June 2016.
He said: “If anybody tells you that they did, tell them that you won’t believe another word that they say.
“It was very clear that this result would unleash demons but that those demons would be as far-reaching, that it would take as long to resolve, that it would cause so much introspection for the British political class and for the British people, I don’t think could have been seen by anyone.
“We’ve been living it, we’ve really gone through this process, not as Europeans, we’ve been through this process as members of the British family of nations.
“Having voted in that referendum, I think we felt very invested indeed in the process, in the result and in the outcome.”
As for the forthcoming UK general election, Oxford-educated Mr Picardo, a lawyer by profession, maintained a neutral stance, saying: “The British Government is always studiously careful not to say anything that suggests it supports one side or another in a Gibraltar election and I have learned the same discipline.
“Whether it is the British election or the Spanish election, we will work with whoever the British people decide should be returned to Government after December 12.”
He also took the opportunity to emphasise the benefits to British businesses pondering relocating to or investing in the Rock.
He explained: “If you’re in London, if you’re in the United Kingdom and you think of business, think of Gibraltar, and with your own business, think of the advantages Gibraltar can bring to it.
“If you are in a regulated space, around financial services, we have a very approachable regulator, we have a very affordable layers of tax, we have total transparency through to the UK exchequer, it gives you a reach into the Mediterranean, into North Africa, which is visible from Gibraltar.
“You can literally see Tangier, Morocco, 14 kilometres.
“It’s a safe and secure foothold in Africa, it’s a safe foothold here in the continent, and it’s British through and through.”