Gibraltar wants to get an MP to help protect the region
It emerges two weeks before MPs will be asked to debate the prospect of the overseas territory securing its post-Brexit future as a fully-fledged member of the United Kingdom.
With 23,000 voters Gibraltar would not be the smallest constituency – Nah h-Eileanan an Iar, in the Outer Hebrides, has just 21,260,
But senior government insiders on the Rock say the move, if accepted by the majority of Gibraltarians, would more likely see it share an MP with Cornwall.
More than 9,200 people, including Gibraltar’s Chief Minster Fabian Picardo QC, have already signed the petition in paper and online form, which is due to be presented to Prime Minster Theresa May in September.
Framed as a plea from “the loyal British citizens of Gibraltar” it calls for Gibraltarians “to be granted representation in the Westminster Parliament.“
It goes on: “We believe that, as British citizens, it is a fundamental right of ours.”
While Gibraltar has always enjoyed the support of a large group of Members of Parliament as it fought to counter an increasing number of incursions by Spain into its waters, and enforced restrictions at its frontier, campaigners argue their status outside both the EU and the UK proper will leave it vulnerable after Brexit.
Last night former minister Joe Caruana, leading the campaign, said he was confident the plan would secure support from most Gibraltarians.
“The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 allowed us to be joined with the South West of England for the purpose of voting for an MEP. It is an irony that we, as British citizens, have had more direct say in the affairs of Europe than with the Government of the United Kingdom,” he said.
“France, Portugal, Spain and Finland have all allowed territories to have direct representation in parliaments.
“While we believe Gibraltar will thrive after Brexit, and continue to enjoy the support of the British Government, we must look to our status: what will we be?
“We won’t be in the EU, and we won’t be part of Britain. We will be alone, an overseas territory with all the diplomatic status that this brings, which isn’t much.”
In April last year Theresa May famously failed to include any mention of Gibraltar’s sovereignty in her letter to EU Commission Donald Tusk when invoking Article 50.
The omission was dubbed “very relevant” by Esteban González Pons, vice-chair of the European People’s party, who stated it was “because Gibraltar isn’t part of the United Kingdom; it’s a colony like the island of St Helena”.
Despite British protests, the United Nations shares that view, and the issue had been at the heart of a diplomatic tussle for three decades.
“All we hear about is Northern Ireland, but there are two border issues with Brexit. We feel that if we were classified a devolved region of the UK, Spain would show more respect for our sea boundaries and our border,“ he added.
On June 19 South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay will present a Ten Minute Rule Bill to parliament calling for debate of the issue.
“We’ve already crossed a rubicon – there is already an attachment between Gibraltar and the UK for European electoral purposes. This was considered the right thing to do,” he said last night.
“In addition Gibraltar is special because it is in Europe and is a large economy that sits in the Stirling zone.
“It is feeling unloved and uncertain about its future I feel this would be a clear signal that Gibraltar is firmly part of the British family and that this will never change.”
He added: “I would be very much like to see Gibraltar have he same devo- max type settlement that Scotland enjoys wth its own constituency. There are lots of things coalescing together that make this worthwhile, doable and constitutional.”
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The petition will be delivered to Downing Street By Andrew Rosindell MP, deputy chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Gibraltar.
“Gibraltar is unique in that, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, it can never be independent – it must be either British or Spanish. This makes it different to other overseas territories,“ he said.
“It cannot be right that its people are not able to vote on things that effect them directly, such as defence and currency matters.”
Last night the Government of Gibraltar remained guarded.
‘Gibraltar enjoys a high degree of self-government and has its own Parliament and Government where all powers are devolved except defence, external relations and internal security,“ said a spokesman.
“Any arrangement to provide representation for Gibraltar in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords would have to fully respect the powers of self-government that Gibraltar enjoys today.”