Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 26th May 2017

On Tuesday morning I introduced the deputy chief minister of Gibraltar to a parliamentary meeting. 

Joseph Garcia is a politics graduate of Hull University, has been in the government of Gibraltar for many years and is a liberal. He also has young children. 

On Monday night many parents watched their children head to a music concert in Manchester. Some never got home. We had a moment’s reflection on Tuesday where we thought about our children. 

It now transpires that the suicide bomber outside the concert was born and bred in Manchester. Time will tell as to whether he worked alone or as part of a wider circle.

The UK is on the highest level of security alert – but I hope that by the weekend the general election campaign is back in full swing. We are arguing in that campaign for a government, using our vote to choose an elected representative. Terror attacks must never stop that.

Any government has a primary responsibility to keep its people safe. But no law or speech in the Holyrood or the House of Commons can stop the kind of attack that took place last week.

Freedom of speech, the right of expression, the sheer inalienable right to make one’s case no matter what that is, underpins a liberal, fair, open, and transparent society. And a sustained belief in education and investing in it must be the response to what happened this week.

Gibraltar hosted the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at the beginning of the week. This brings representatives from the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, the crown dependencies such as Isle of Man and Falklands together. Ninety-six per cent of the Gibraltarian people voted to remain in the European Union. So hence Gibraltar as the location.

Mr Garcia, his boss Fabian Picardo, and the attorney general who is an independent lawyer, all made the same point about the Brexit discussions. That having met numerous UK government ministers to discuss the reality of Brexit and the UK’s negotiating position, they could not find one.

Gibraltar has a land border with Spain, or as the chief minister put it, with Europe. Gibraltar has a population of more than 30,000 people, slightly more that the Western Isles.

Around 12,000 people stream across the border every morning to work on the Rock. Thy work in financial services, e-gaming, construction and service industries. The neighbouring Spanish region to the Rock has very high unemployment especially among young people.

Gibraltar provides much needed work. In other words, it needs Spain and Europe and European workers need the work. Hence the vote on staying in the EU.

They worry that the UK government will trade them away as part of the negotiations. Their concerns are identical to Shetland’s fishing industry. That is why I wanted to learn from Gibraltar.

A terror attack in Manchester, the reality of Brexit in Gib, and a suspended general election campaign. This has been a troubling week.

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