It was in1969 when an agreement was reached between Dom Mintoff and Archbishop Gonzi:

“Ejja ma ninsewhx dan, mhux billi għamlu l-paċi magħna, u żgur li għamlu l-paċi, għax kien jaqblilhom għamlu l-paċi magħna. Għax kienu qed jitkissru għamlu l-paċi magħna. M’għamlux il-paċi magħna għax huma nsara. Aħna konna ngħidulhom: aħna l-insara, mhux intom! F’wiċċhom, dakinhar, meta kienu jsawtuna, meta kellna l-gvern Ingliż, jitturufna lin-nies tagħna. Meta kellna arċisqof jiġbor lin-nies taħt l-umbrella u jgħidilhom ‘ejja nduru kontra tagħhom dawn’.”

The Church agreed that it will never impose canon sanctions on the Labour Party and this was a victory for the party because it was the same Church which had to take a step back.

It was ten years later, on 31st March 1979, when Mintoff’s greatest achievement happened – when the last British ship, HMS London, left Malta’s harbour, and Malta was no longer a military base. This marked Freedom Day (Jum il-Helsien), with the withdrawal of British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta. Freedom Day is a very significant moment in Malta’s political history because it was the first time that Malta had truly become independent de facto as well as de jure.

Maria Camilleri, a former Labour Party candidate, states that that day was the best and the happiest day for Mintoff and he was so happy, that he resembled a child who is happy with a gift he has received. He felt this way not only because of the freedom that Malta has acquired, but most of all, because there was no bloodshed, like there was in other countries.

When Mintoff was elected in 1971, Malta had been independent for six years, but the British were still among the Maltese nation. Until Mintoff was elected, everything was in the hands of the British: broadcasting, banking, the economy, the airport. So, although Borg Olivier brought independence, and this was the first step which then Mintoff could build on, still Malta was not truly independent.

Negotiations took nine months.

“Kellna żmien iebes ħafna u nittamaw li l-ġimgħa d-dieħla ma tkunx daqshekk iebsa.”

“Are you optimistic, Mr Mintoff, that an agreement will be reached in the near future?”

“Jiena realistiku. Bdejt dawn it-taħditiet bħala realistiku u nittama li nibqa’ realistiku sakemm in-negozjati jintemmu.”

In the end, an agreement was reached and signed with “extending the right of Britain to use Malta as a naval base until 1979, that is seven years.  Thanks to such an agreement, Mintoff got the lump sum of £14 million per year from the British, which contributed greatly to Malta’s economic development through the 1970s.

Lord Kerrington, the representative of the British government, had stated that Mintoff was the biggest and most harsh negotiator and the most loyal to his country that he had ever met in his entire life.

“Għax hu jgħid li spiċċa bla qalziet ta’ taħt. Mhux veru! Jien liebes ħallejtu.” [laughter]

Here is part of the press conference that Dom Mintoff gave after the agreement:

“Meta ksirniha, għax ħsibna li l-kundizzjonijiet ma kinux tajbin. U nista’ nassigurakom li kull darba li morna lura fuq il-mejda, akkwistajna xi ħaġa.”

“You were apparently quite determined to get on without the British if it proved to be necessary Mr Mintoff.”

“Iva, iva”.

“How were you prepared to do that?”

[laughing] “Dik inżommuha għalina.”

Once back to Malta, Mintoff was given a huge, hero’s welcome.

When Mintoff was in government again in 1979, he replaced the British governor with the Maltese, Sir Anthony Mamo, who became the first President of the Republic of Malta three years later. This was another feat with agreement with the Nationalist opposition party.

Sir Anthony’s Mamo speech was: “Jiena nwiegħed li nqiegħed lili nnifsi għas-servizz tagħkom u tal-poplu kollu, bħala kap tal-istat u bħala rappreżentant tal-għaqda u tal-umilta’ nazzjonali. Intom ukoll, kull wieħed minnkom, għandkom teħilfu u twegħdu fis-skiet ta’ qalbkom, li tgħaqqdu l-parti tagħkom, bil-għaqal, bl-onesta’, mhux bl-egoiżmu jew bi spirtu sezzjonali, iżda fl-interess ta’ għajrkom u tal-pajjiż li għandu jiġi l-ewwel u qabel kollox.”

Lino Cassar was the first to see the new emblem for Malta as a Republic when Mintoff took up a stone and draw its design. He drew the sun because he wanted to showcase Malta as a touristic, sunny island.

If Malta’s freedom was the main goal of Mintoff’s political life, then why was he negotiating Malta’s integration with Britain, twenty years before? This was because no politician could ever think that Malta could stand on its own. But the integration never happened and while negotiating it, Mintoff had dared to defy it.

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