This week’s session of the House served as a helpful reminder of how human issues can transcend parliamentary concerns. In the bubble of local politics, it can be easy to lose perspective on issues that can truly matter. The tributes we paid in the House were all great levelers that made us momentarily forget about the grinding nature of local parliamentary affairs.
Last week’s incident outside Westminster Palace showed us how the fickle finger of fate can sometimes be manipulated by evil forces. Once again – as indeed it was in 1605 – the UK Parliament came under attack, a symbol of the modern democracy we enjoy being threatened by fear and violence. As in Guy Fawkes’ time, the conspiracy failed, although this time, sadly, there were casualties. Both sides of the House paid tribute to the robustness of democracy, and to the heroism of the City of London and the individuals who tragically lost their lives. As aghast as I was to see the news, I was encouraged by how quickly the city seemed to recover, with the House of Commons convening for business the very next day in a defiant demonstration of how terror will never defeat the values which we hold dear. The courage of PC Keith Palmer and our collective sympathy towards Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes are a further example of our solidarity in maintaining our common humanity in the face of such misguided and futile malevolence. In my speech, I also called for caution in our global response, to ensure that we do not unfairly judge other races, religions or cultures by the actions of individuals who claim to represent their cause. Instead, we will continue to preserve a united front, to show those who believe they can rupture this humanity through terrorist acts that they will never succeed, as shown by the tremendous example set by the people and city of London. I personally found delivering my speech a therapeutic experience, and, despite the awful circumstances, I was pleased to have an opportunity to articulate my thoughts in an attempt to make sense of what took place.
This message of togetherness is one I also stressed in response to the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May. As expected as the news was, the reality of our departure from the European Union alongside the United Kingdom is one that made all our anxieties about this re-surface. Gibraltar never voted for Brexit, but the process has now started, and we must continue fighting for the best deal possible, one that does not overlook our interests among the UK’s wider strategy. I was encouraged to hear the Chief Minister’s reassurances about the process, and have offered him and his Government my full support in shepherding Gibraltar through these uncertain times. This unity is of paramount importance, and I repeated my readiness to start discussions as part of the Brexit Select Committee. This will be a challenging period in our history, and it is up to all of us elected politicians to ensure that Mr Picardo’s optimism ends up being justified.
The House also paid tribute to former Leader of the Opposition Maurice Xiberras. I reminded the House of Mr Xiberras’ long association with my father, having also formed part of that important early generation that shaped Gibraltar’s political future. While Mr Xiberras and my father disagreed on many issues, I nonetheless drew the House’s attention to the respect Sir Joshua had for his adversary. Mr Xiberras made many significant contributions to our politics, not least by being part of the Strasbourg talks, and I shared the House’s condolences to Mr Xiberras’ family on their sad loss.
Other issues that dominated this parliamentary session revolved around legislation surrounding taxis, taxation, revenge porn, grooming offences and the appointment of a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This shows the wide variety of issues that come our way in local politics, a sure sign that, despite moments of terrible sadness and confusion, life goes on.
And that is just as it should be.