Gibraltar’s National Day celebrations today are understandably more subdued than usual, but locals and visitors have still been able to enjoy a festive atmosphere.
In the lead up to the commemoration, the government strongly encouraged members of the public to exercise civic consciousness and community responsibility, by maintaining social distancing and following all public health advice.
Restrictions on large public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the traditional Casemates rally, which was replaced by a TV programme broadcast on GBC. The celebratory mood was also somewhat muted as the countdown continues to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December – and negotiations are still being held to determine Gibraltar’s future status within a European Union framework.
Nevertheless, as the Gibraltar Chronicle reported, “while streets were quieter on Thursday morning, the spirit of National Day was very much alive as people gathered on beaches and at home to mark the day”.
Celebrated every 10 September, National Day commemorates Gibraltar’s first referendum in 1967, when Gibraltarians were asked if they wanted to remain under British or revert to Spanish sovereignty. More than 99 per cent of voters opted for the former, and nearly two years later Spanish dictator General Franco ordered the border gate to be closed. It was partially reopened to pedestrians in 1982, and for vehicle traffic in 1985.
In a message broadcast on GBC, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo praised Gibraltar’s response to “one of the toughest years in living memory”, noting that Gibraltarians had shown “the same grit and steel resolve” as previous generations.
At the same time, however, he focused on the “genuine threats” posed by COVID-19 and sent a strong message to those questioning the need for strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
“To those of you who think COVID is a hoax, to those of you who make it your mission to mislead, to misinform and to misguide the vulnerable in our community, I tell you now: you are selfish and you are wrong.
“To those who are listening to ignorant, misinformed or intentionally misleading social media voices instead of listening to our health professionals, you are risking not just you and your family. You are risking all of us. All of our loved ones. And all of our freedoms.
“To all the anti-maskers, the anti-vaxxers and the anti-tracers I say the following few words. You are not just wrong, you are foolish and wrong. You have no credibility and you are risking so much of what our nation is and we all hold dear.
“Our patriotic duty this year is to be prudent and responsible as we celebrate. So please be conscious of that, especially our young people.”
As for Brexit, he said, “Deal or no deal, the Gibraltarians will prosper. But we will continue to work for a deal that works for Gibraltar. A deal that is safe for Gibraltar. A deal that fully respects our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over our land, our sea and our air. That is the differentiated solution that we seek.
“One that recognises that our geographic, social and economic differences with the UK require a different deal with the EU for the future. But one that keeps us closer than ever to Britain.”
Messages from UK Leaders
Following the celebrations, the Gibraltar government expressed its appreciation of the “extensive political support” received by UK leaders who, for the first time in Gibraltar’s history, all sent video messages…
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“The past few months have been difficult for all of us and it’s sadly clear that this awful virus is not yet done with us or with Gibraltar so far. We’ve been working with the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, who’s done an absolutely stellar job this year to make sure you have the medical supplies you need to keep your people healthy and the financial security you need to keep your economy running”.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon
“I can assure you that, as we face the challenges of the months ahead, Scotland will continue to work in that spirit of cooperation and internationalism. I know that Scotland and Gibraltar will continue to enjoy a close friendship in the future and I hope that, despite the circumstances, you all have an enjoyable and safe Gibraltar National Day.”
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford
“We look forward again this year to welcoming students from Gibraltar who come to study here in Wales at our national universities. On behalf of all the people of Wales, I send the warmest greetings on Gibraltar National Day.”
First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster
“It’s clear to me that we share the same strength of character power by resilience, energy and determination. Let me wish your Chief Minister, and friend Fabian, and indeed all of you and the most beautiful part of the world, a very safe and happy Gibraltar National Day. I look forward to being with you again very soon.”
In reply, Fabian Picardo noted, “Despite the challenges and the very different way we have had to celebrate this year, it is the first time all UK leaders have taken the time to remember Gibraltar on our special day. This shows how we are undoubtedly part of the British Family of Nations. As we navigate our departure from the EU in the coming months, it is extremely reassuring to know that we have the genuine support of our UK counterparts every step of the way.”
Discover more about Gibraltar’s history here.