Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo in Downing Street for talks on the border dispute with Spain (Photo: Getty)
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General Election: what they’re saying

The UK General Election is days away and although both main parties are committed to the Rock, a number of issues have surfaced in their pronouncements in recent weeks. Guy Clapperton takes the temperature.

First the good news if you’re resident in Gibraltar and want to stay British; neither Labour nor the Conservatives are making noises about being less than committed to you. Whether the new Government is Labour-led minority, Conservative-led coalition as we’ve seen for the last five years or some other hybrid as yet unimagined, Gibraltar’s status should be beyond doubt.

The parties haven’t always been so transparent. Some people will recall the then Home Secretary Jack Straw’s so-called Andorra Solution mooted in 2002, under which the UK and Spain would have had joint sovereignty; this was rejected comprehensively by a Gib referendum, and if anybody’s thinking of suggesting anything like it again, they’re not saying so out loud. Currently Labour’s funders are suggesting Gibraltarians can sleep easy, although there is no mention of it in the party’s manifesto. The Conservatives, by contrast, suggest they will protect the democratic rights of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands and encourage them to remain British for “as long as they wish”. UKIP’s manifesto is strongly in favour of other countries being urged to respect the Rock’s Britishness,

That said, some issues have emerged that could change the current status, not because of any wish to change but because of what happens outside the Rock. The first might actually strengthen Gibraltar as a British territory: if the SNP wins the expected landslide in Scotland then the moral if not constitutional case for moving trident will become unarguable. According to reports published in  the Daily Express and RT, Gibraltar is among the options under consideration should there be a move. Arguments over whether Trident should be scrapped aside (and no major party is suggesting this), it would be inconceivable to suggest Britain would be any more amenable to Spain’s entreaties to abandon the Rock if its nuclear deterrent were to be based on it.

The SNP also has a walk-on part in the second scenario that could spell change. Although the Conservative assurances of sovereignty are likely to be welcomed in the territory, the promise of an in-out referendum on Europe should the same party get a simple majority is less so (and if UKIP holds any sway then the referendum is increasingly likely).

As our article from Dominique Searle pointed out only weeks ago, Gibraltar joined the EU at the same time as the UK in the same referendum. If the UK decides to pull out in 2017 then Gibraltar comes out. Should that happen it’s almost certain to reapply or do whatever it has to do to stay in; in an article from The Trumpet in mid-April, chief minister Fabian Picardo is quoted as saying “[If] one part of the UK decides that it wants out of the European Union, then the negotiations should involve each of the separate parts being able to remain with a different degree of membership.”

Gibraltar wants to stay in the EU even if the rest of the UK left. This scenario could involve another major change as the SNP would almost certainly claim Scotland wanted to remain involved in Europe, too. There has been a great deal of speculation that if the UK did pull out this would precipitate a second referendum on Scotland’s relationship with the Union in which it might well becom independent. It’s early to be discussing the effect a break-up of the Union would have on outlying territories, but we could be looking at a European Gibraltar regarding itself as British while Britain is no longer European – and no longer the Britain it was because of the absence of Scotland. The only certainty would be uncertainty.

Within a couple of weeks, depending on the length of the horse trading, we’ll have an idea of at least the starting point for the next five years. With a hung Parliament the most likely outcome and a referendum a distinct possibility, the fact that both main parties have stated support for a British Gibraltar doesn’t leave the way as unambiguous as might have been hoped.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.

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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.