As an act of human kindness, I inform Members that they may remove their jackets and other articles of clothing, up to a point. I remind Members that if they make a speech, as opposed to an intervention, they are expected to remain until the debate is finished.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of the EU referendum on Gibraltar.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I declare an interest: I am the chairman of the all-party group on Gibraltar. I have visited Gibraltar several times, funded by the Gibraltar Government, and I hope to visit again in September for Gibraltar’s national day. I also declare that I was the parliamentary lead for the Brexit campaign for a large part of the south-west of England, so, naturally, I was delighted by the result a month ago. Once again, we will be a free, sovereign and independent people, and that includes Gibraltar.
I welcome and congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), on his new position and I am sure that his father would have been very proud to see him occupying it. This is an historic occasion, as it is the first time that a Minister from the Department for Exiting the European Union, or the “Brexit Department”, has responded to a debate in this House.
Of the 23,000 members of the electorate in Gibraltar who were entitled to vote in the EU referendum, 96% voted to remain; there were 19,322 votes to remain as opposed to 823 votes to leave. Admittedly, that is slightly less than the 98% of the electorate who voted to remain British, but it is very impressive all the same. For perspective, however, that result in Gibraltar has to be seen in the context of the whole UK, where there were 17.4 million votes to leave, and as the Prime Minister has said, “Brexit means Brexit”.
Of course we recognise and understand the uneasiness, nervousness and fear that many people—including a large number of people in Gibraltar—are feeling at the moment. When the Chief Minister of Gibraltar spoke to the all-party group a couple of weeks ago, he described grown men being reduced to tears by the referendum result. However, I am told that the report in the Financial Times that Gibraltarians would like another referendum on their membership of the EU was not accurate.
Those feelings are obviously due to both the historical and very difficult relations with Spain—for example, Franco closed the border in 1969 and it remained closed until 1985—and to the ongoing and ridiculous posturing by Spain. Spain has attempted to bully Gibraltar with totally unnecessary and antagonistic border delays. Also, as I have said in this Chamber on several occasions, I am sure that Spain’s ongoing war of attrition against Gibraltar, including the foolish and dangerous games that its security forces play by entering British Gibraltarian territorial waters and airspace without permission, is deliberately provocative and I fear that one day it could result in a terrible and tragic accident.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does on Anglo-Gibraltarian relations. Does he agree that the confrontational approach towards Gibraltar that Spain adopts is rather ironic, bearing in mind that Spain has numerous territories in Morocco? I thought that it had only Ceuta and Melilla, but upon closer inspection of the atlas, I see that Spain actually has more enclaves in Morocco.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I would put it more strongly than that. “Ironic” is too polite a word; the fact that Spain harasses Gibraltar and constantly seeks to undermine its status when, as he says, it has overseas enclaves of its own is tantamount to hypocrisy.
Gibraltar is the only British overseas territory that has a land border with mainland Europe. Given Spanish politicians’ continued use of Gibraltar to distract from their own failed policies and the dire economic situation in their own country, Gibraltar has a right to feel nervous about leaving the EU and Spain’s potential response.
Gibraltar is a fantastic economic success story. It has impressive economic growth, with GDP for 2014-15 having increased by more than 10.6% in real terms on the previous year, and I understand that the forecast for 2015-16 is for a further 7.5% increase. Gibraltar has a higher GDP per capita than the UK and Spain as a whole, and one that is greatly higher per head than in the neighbouring Spanish region of Andalucia. GDP per capita for Gibraltar is forecast to be £54,979 in 2015-16, which is a long way above that of Andalucia, whose GDP per capita was £12,700 in 2015, and even above that of Madrid, which was £23,400 in 2015. Therefore, it is unsurprising that up to 10,000 Spaniards a day cross the border to work in Gibraltar.
There is a feeling in Gibraltar, however, that leaving the EU will risk the current economic model and expose Gibraltar to new threats from Spain. Gibraltar faces a clear time imperative, as established businesses consider what to do next if they require access to the single market on an ongoing basis. The Gibraltarians’ large vote to stay in the EU is seen as a reflection of the fact that the EU provided a legal framework that drew red lines on how far Spain could go in imposing heavy-handed border controls and other sanctions before being called to order for breaching the law. However, international law and the UN also arbitrate on these issues, and as Spain’s NATO ally, we may actually have more strength in direct negotiations than we would otherwise.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this great and very appropriate debate. He referred to NATO. Spain is our NATO ally, and as a NATO ally, it is utterly disgraceful that it does not allow our Royal Air Force aeroplanes to overfly its territory, while allowing Russian warships to rebunker at Ceuta. It is about time that our Foreign Office got a grip on this issue and explained very harshly to Spain that that approach is unacceptable, and I hope that message will also go out from this debate to the Spanish authorities.
I thank my hon. Friend for his customarily robust intervention, and of course he is absolutely right. As he says, it is astonishing that a NATO ally should do that. It costs the British taxpayer several thousand pounds extra every time there is an RAF flight to Gibraltar, because the RAF does not have overfly rights with Spain, so its planes have to take a slightly longer route. It is also astonishing, given what is happening in the world with Russian aggression, that the Spanish are not only content to receive Russian warships but encourage them to refuel in their Moroccan territories. Those of us on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly are working towards getting that message—loud and clear—up the chain of command, because the current situation is appalling.
The people of Gibraltar should be reassured that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) said on his last day as Prime Minister that there would be no talks on sovereignty—joint or otherwise—against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. I was extremely pleased that the new Foreign Secretary said last weekend:
“I was delighted to meet Chief Minister Picardo. I reassured him of both our steadfast commitment to Gibraltar, and our intention to fully involve Gibraltar in discussions on our future relationship with the EU.
The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty and we will respect their wishes.”
Importantly, he went on to say:
“We will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. We will continue to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy”—
and crucially he concluded:
“including maintaining a well-functioning Gibraltar-Spain border.”
Not only does Gibraltar wish to remain British—that is a right that we will always fight for—but it is a vital strategic military asset for the United Kingdom. It is one of our key forward operating bases in the Mediterranean and commands the straits. I look forward to the day when one of our new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers visits Gibraltar.
There are two key issues for Gibraltar: the freedom to provide services, and a free-flowing frontier. Therefore, when the Minister sums up, I would like him to assure us that Gibraltar will not be a side-discussion that is left to the end of the negotiations on Brexit and therefore allowed to be bargained away, but that it is a red line that any bilateral treaty must include. Britain will need to be robust in the EU and the UN and in its lobbying of other countries to counter the consistent lobbying of them by Spain, as it presses its own sovereignty claim on Gibraltar. Importantly, the EU must not be allowed to take sides against the UK and Gibraltar on this issue in any way. We should increase our efforts in the UN to remove Gibraltar from its list of non-self-governing territories, as Gibraltar is clearly self-governing.
To reassure Gibraltar and its business community, I ask the Minister to act immediately and take one initial and hugely supportive step: establish a common single market between Gibraltar and the UK. It is within the British Government’s remit to do so. It is an entirely domestic matter that can be agreed by Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of Gibraltar bilaterally at any time without any EU involvement. It will give our Government some of the tools they need to stand ready to robustly defend Gibraltar if Spain exerts pressure, such as introducing heavy-handed frontier controls, during the future negotiations with the EU.
We must seek and promote the opportunities that Brexit presents to the people of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is building its own world trade centre, and unshackled from the EU, it will be able to maximise its ability to trade globally and to seek and secure bilateral deals with its nearest neighbours and worldwide. As part of the Great British family, Gibraltar and the UK will thrive and prosper out of the EU. The United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world. We trade globally. We are the biggest defence spender in Europe— the fourth biggest in the world—with the world’s best armed forces. We are one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. We have one of the best diplomatic services across the world. We have a unique relationship with the United States and the Commonwealth.
Unshackled from the European Union, we will thrive and prosper as a nation even more. We will be free to make trade deals all over the world without the increasingly restrictive practices of the European Union. Gibraltar, as part of the Great British family, will also gain great advantages from being unshackled from the European Union and being free to trade with the world. The fact is that Gibraltar is British and will stay British as long as it wishes.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I was on my last sentence, but please go ahead.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I apologise for interrupting his peroration. I congratulate him on securing the debate and on his re-election as chair of the all-party group. On what more we can do to reassure Gibraltar, one of the issues that came up at the last all-party group meeting was a desire not only to frame things in the negative, where we talk about having no discussions and no ceding of sovereignty unless the people of Gibraltar agree, but to adopt a more positive attitude, with the British Government saying, “We cherish Gibraltar. We value it, and we want it to remain British.” In all our discussions, we need to emphasise that we look positively on Gibraltar’s Britishness.
Absolutely. A lot of us have been fighting almost a rearguard action, initially in the days following the referendum, against all the negativity. There seemed to be a grey cloud over people who were on the wrong side of the debate, so far as the referendum went. We all know that optimism is a great driver of business and opportunity. We have a responsibility to re-emphasise and reinforce—I hope the Minister will do so—the fantastic period that can come after Gibraltar is free to trade with the whole world in its own right. Gibraltar is in the hearts of everyone here in Parliament.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) on securing it and on setting the scene so well. We look forward to hearing the new Minister. I wish him well in his new position. We missed him in Belfast at the credit unions international conference, but his name was held in high esteem. He will know that anyway, and we look forward to his deliberations on this matter.
The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke has always been a friend of Gibraltar and I welcome his commitment to the Rock as we embark on our new relationship with the EU as a nation, including Gibraltar. Clearly, what he and the rest of us will do in our contributions is set the scene for Brexit and say how we can look forward positively to securing our future and that of Gibraltar outside the EU.
To give a bit of background on Gibraltar’s relationship with the EU—I am sure Members are aware of this—in 1972 the UK Act of Accession to the European Economic Community applied the EEC treaties to Gibraltar, with the crucial exception of the customs union, the common commercial policy, the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and the requirement to levy VAT. Gibraltar has been in the EU since 1973 as part of the UK’s membership and applies EU law except in those four areas. If the exemption has worked, there is more that can work to the advantage of Gibraltar in how we move forward. The exemption from those areas means that potential difficulties in Gibraltar leaving the EU may be averted. The debate gives us all a chance to challenge the Minister, and I know he will clearly hit upon those things in his response. It is nice to have some people in the Gallery who have a particular interest in Gibraltar. Some are former Members of this House, and we are pleased to see them here today.
Importantly, Brexit will not alter Gibraltar’s constitutional status in relation to the UK—a relationship most of us are very proud of and very loyal to, as this debate will outline. Many will remember that the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed between 1969 and 1985, before being reopened around the time that Spain joined the EEC. EU free movement rules have meant that the border has remained open ever since, despite the Spanish obstructions, of which we are all aware—they are well documented, and the hon. Gentleman referred to some of them in his introduction. When the UK leaves the EU, if we do not apply to stay in the European economic area, the free movement principle will no longer apply. That will need to be addressed as part of the Brexit negotiations.
I had a chat last night to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. He indicated some of the problems that there would be, some of the ways forward and how his staff will work on that. Spain will be able to close the border and establish border and passport controls, and the Spanish Government indicated in May 2016 that it might do so if the UK voted to leave the EU. Spain has been obstructive, regardless of EU principles. The reality may well be that the operation of Gibraltar’s frontier with Spain will be determined by the relations between the United Kingdom and Spain.
Within hours of the result, the Spanish Foreign Minister, José García-Margallo, crowed:
“The Spanish flag is now much closer to the Rock.”
The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, responded in his usual manner to all these sorts of threats over sovereignty by saying:
“Another day, another stupid remark.”
The Foreign Office insists it will not even discuss the issue. Perhaps the Minister can give some indication of that in his response. I welcome the position the new Foreign Secretary has adopted so far.
I am extremely disappointed with the way that the Foreign Office pussyfoots around on this matter. It spends its time summoning the Spanish ambassador and giving him a wigging, and he goes off and nothing changes. It is about time our Foreign Office had some courage and did something, and represented the people of Gibraltar better.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. This debate will give us all a chance to show that commitment and that eagerness to have the Foreign Office respond more robustly to any deliberations that come from Spain.
We need to strike the right balance between defending Gibraltar and the United Kingdom’s interests and developing an understanding relationship with Spain to succeed in securing Gibraltar’s stability. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has held talks with the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, where the suggestion was made that they, along with my home nation of Northern Ireland, could maintain the UK’s membership of the EU, while England and Wales leave the EU. Let us be clear: the referendum has spoken. The majority of the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have indicated that they wish to leave the EU. That decision has clearly been taken.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the assurances are excellent? We are glad to see the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and other Government Ministers offer those assurances to the people of Gibraltar, but Gibraltarians and other regions in the UK want and hopefully will see more than just assurances post-Brexit. They want action to ensure prosperity outside and beyond the EU, so that those regions and Gibraltar in particular will benefit from the post-EU position.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his comments. The debate clearly gives us all a chance to chart and look forward to how Gibraltar outside the EU can succeed even better than it has. It is good to have on record that those voting to leave the EU had a majority of 1.3 million. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the vote was to remain, but the 1.3 million people who voted no—who voted for out— in Northern Ireland and Scotland made the difference in the whole United Kingdom. We have to keep it in perspective. We took that decision collectively as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The decision has been made, let’s move on.
It is difficult to see an outcome where the UK would have regions staying in the EU and regions leaving the EU. Indeed, some of the most staunch remain campaigners are beginning to concede that fact at last. It is therefore now most important that the concerns voiced by all those in regions with specific relationships with the EU continue to enjoy the benefits that made the regions vote to remain in the first place. We have a task to do, but we can do that task. We can be positive and look forward with optimism to the future and how we can achieve those goals. Whether that means retaining, replicating or replacing, it is now the job of the Brexit negotiation team, the Department for Exiting the European Union and all those involved to make sure that any potentially negative outcomes are mitigated and reduced.
Gibraltar’s booming economy, which grew at more than 10% in the past year, relies to a large degree on the thousands of Spanish workers who cross the border every day. Some hon. Members in the Chamber today have attended Gibraltar events, where we had an opportunity to hear about some of the economic benefits coming to Gibraltar through their relationship with us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is important that we focus on those things as well.
Thousands of Spanish workers cross the border every day. That needs to be factored into the Brexit process to ensure that Spanish people are not put off working in Gibraltar should there be a need for work permits. Christian Hernandez, president of the Chamber of Commerce on the Rock, said that the Rock’s thriving financial services sector is at risk, too. He claims:
“The whole way we’ve marketed the jurisdiction is as a gateway into Europe.”
There is a job to do, but we can look forward to it with confidence. Most industries will prove immune to Brexit. Roughly 90% of Gibraltar’s insurance and online betting business consists of transactions with Britain. Low tax rates will ultimately help keep firms in place. Again, there are many things we can do to ensure that that happens.
The reality of the economic situation in the neighbouring Spanish regions is likely to mute any real Spanish aggression. Gibraltar provides a whopping 25% of the economy of the neighbouring Spanish area of Campo de Gibraltar, and the region of Andalucia as a whole suffers 32% unemployment. The mayor of the border town of La Línea de la Concepción, Juan Franco, concedes:
“Our economy is completely dependent on Gibraltar.”
A 30-year-old resident of the same town, who commutes daily from La Linea to her waitressing job, has never been able to find a job in Spain. At 30 years old, it is staggering to hear her say:
“The only money I’ve ever earned is in Gibraltar.”
Some think the future will be brighter; let us be confident that it will be. With the support of the Government, we know that it can be. To give a couple of examples of major developments, a Shell-operated liquid natural gas terminal will come online by mid-2017, and a new secure data facility is housed deep within the Rock. The potential for Gibraltar is good. It is positive and we should be confident of where we are going.
The local Government hope to use their significant autonomy to forge tighter links with Morocco and other emerging economies in Africa and beyond. We all have to pay close attention to the Rock and give the people all the support that they need, but things are still certainly looking bright for Britain in the sun.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) on securing this debate. Like him, I declare an interest, in this case as secretary of the all-party parliamentary group for Gibraltar. The visits I have made to Gibraltar are set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is appropriate that we should both speak in this debate because we took entirely different views on the referendum. However, we share a determination, now that the decision has been taken, to achieve the best possible deal for the people, economy and sovereignty of Gibraltar, which is a totally committed part of the British family. We seek to find constructive ways in which we can work with the Minister—I welcome him to his place. I share the sentiments that his father would be delighted to see him here, if perhaps a little surprised at the role he occupies, which means he will respond to the debate.
I want to stress two things. Given the decision, there are two practical issues that absolutely must be addressed on Gibraltar, the first of which is the freedom of movement across the frontier, which has been referred to. Although Spain has behaved badly in the past regardless of EU membership, we have been responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations and have at least been able to threaten the use of European law in relation to free movement. We will not have that valuable lever in the same way in future. Within the negotiation on the arrangements that we make to leave, we need a cast-iron safeguard that Gibraltar will be protected. It is different from anywhere else in the UK, as has been observed, because of the land border issue and because of the dependency of its economy on movement across the frontier—that dependency would exist even if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke and I both hope, Gibraltar develops its economy and trade links beyond the EU as well as continuing those within. That movement will be necessary to service the economy come what may, so it absolutely must be maintained.
My second point concerns the importance for Gibraltar of achieving access to the single market in terms of passporting rights for financial services. That is as important to the Gibraltar economy as the financial services sector in the City of London and beyond is to the United Kingdom economy. The ask for the Government is, in the negotiations, for Gibraltar to achieve the same rights of access, especially around financial services, that we achieve for the City of London, and that Gibraltar is not, because of its small size, seen as a trade-off in the bigger game. Those are two key and practical objectives.
To do that, I suggest we need three or four things. First, Gibraltar must have full involvement rather than consultation, which was the phrase initially used—I am glad that the Government have moved in that direction. That full involvement must be on the same basis in the negotiations as the other devolved Administrations within the United Kingdom. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary take on board the importance of contradicting the assertion of the Spanish Foreign Minister, Señor García-Margallo, who was quoted as saying:
“It must be made absolutely clear that Gibraltar is not part of the negotiations.”
We need to say it must be made absolutely clear that Gibraltar must be part of the negotiations and that there can be no movement on that.
The second thing we can do is ensure that that involvement is practical. It says a great deal for our Prime Minister that, on the morning before she went to Buckingham Palace to kiss hands, she took the trouble, while still Home Secretary, to meet personally with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar. That sets a good tone. All of us who wish Gibraltar well cannot thank her enough for that effort. I know the Foreign Secretary has also met the Chief Minister, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will also do so. That presence is really important. Perhaps at some point we will be able to have another prime ministerial visit to Gibraltar. Sadly, the visit by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) was cut short because of tragic circumstances, which overshadowed what otherwise was an important statement during the referendum campaign.
The next practical thing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke has already referred to, would be the swift conclusion of, in effect, a common market free trade agreement between Gibraltar and the UK. There is no legal impediment to our doing that while we remain within the European Union, so it does not have to wait for the article 50 process to go through. That is something we could get on with straight away. That is important because it would give a big confidence boost to Gibraltar’s economy.
The other thing we could do in terms of economic confidence is in relation to the British Government’s direct stake in the economy through the locally employed military personnel of the Ministry of Defence establishment there. I hope the Government will make it absolutely clear that, to resolve any uncertainty or pressures, under these circumstances there is no question whatever of any reduction in the workforce locally employed in the MOD establishment. That would certainly be the wrong thing to do, as many of us believe, in any circumstances, and certainly not now. That is entirely within the British Government’s gift to achieve immediately. I hope the Minister will be able to make those matters clear.
There are challenges and we must work together to meet them. The Government of Gibraltar and all parties in the Gibraltar Parliament are willing to do that. They have established a good relationship here. There is political uncertainty in Spain, and the double standards sometimes reflected in the Spanish Government’s dealings have been referred to. Of course, we will have to continue to work with Spain as a neighbour and an ally. It is a great shame that the attitude it adopts towards Gibraltar has sometimes clouded what could otherwise be useful and constructive relations, but that cannot get in the way of our basic commitment to people who have voted repeatedly to maintain British sovereignty, and it cannot get in the way of our obligation to them to achieve those practical and entirely achievable objectives on their behalf, which we can achieve provided there is the political will. I do not doubt the Minister’s personal commitment to that, and I hope he will signal very clearly the Government’s commitment to those objectives and practical endeavours.
Order. So that Members know, I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesmen to wind up no later than half-past 10.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. The evening of the 23 June was a huge moment for this country. As a campaigner for leave, I was obviously delighted that Britain voted to follow a new path in the world, but we cannot deny that the people of Gibraltar voted by an overwhelming margin to remain in the EU.
Being so close to another EU country, the people of Gibraltar are right to have concerns about what leaving the EU means to them, but one thing is for sure: Gibraltar is British, Gibraltar will remain British and Gibraltar wants to remain British. In 2002, 99.5% of the population of Gibraltar voted to reject joint sovereignty with Spain. That was the second vote that the people of Gibraltar had taken on the subject. They first went to the polls to decide their sovereignty in 1967, when 99.6% of people voted to stay with Britain. Just 44 people voted to side with the Spanish; in 2002, that number was 187. Just 823 people voted to leave the EU on 23 June. Although that may still be a minority, it is definitely a much larger one. My point is that the people of Gibraltar are British, they feel British and their overwhelming view is that they want to remain British.
Let us not rehash the arguments of the referendum. Let us put it to one side and move on, accepting that the decision was taken as one nation and that now we must focus on making the best of it as one nation. Much as it does for the rest of the UK, leaving the European Union opens up a huge range of opportunities for Gibraltar. It now has the opportunity to expand its horizons beyond the northern border to opportunities in the south and the west, using its unique geopolitical position, in the corner of Europe, Africa and the Atlantic, to multiply the trade opportunities that were previously shackled by Brussels.
One example would be Morocco. Over the last decade, Morocco has significantly liberalised its trade regime and strengthened its financial sector. The Casablanca stock exchange is the second largest in Africa and aspires to be the regional hub. With Gibraltar’s strong financial sector, a well-negotiated treaty with Morocco could boost both the Gibraltarian and Moroccan economies. Thanks to the Prime Minister, we now have a Department for International Trade that is ready to strike those deals. Why, when we have the opportunity to expand our horizons in that way, would we look only to Gibraltar’s nearest neighbour? That is at the very heart of why we voted to leave the European Union. We voted to look up from the Brussels negotiating table and see the rest of the world and all the opportunities that it presents. Gibraltar can benefit from that, quite simply by being close to many of these growing markets.
We must obviously work to make sure that the concerns of the people of Gibraltar are recognised. That is why the Prime Minister has repeatedly asserted that we will not go ahead with any negotiations unless they involve every part of the United Kingdom, including Gibraltar.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiment that the United Kingdom can now use Gibraltar in partnership for engaging with Morocco. Morocco is a very stable, good ally of the United Kingdom. Does she agree that, going forward with the new Department, we can work in partnership with Gibraltar to penetrate the Moroccan market?
I wholeheartedly agree. We will not go ahead with a deal that all the nations and territories that make up the UK are not happy with. It is in that spirit that I am delighted to hear the words of Daniel Feetham, the leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, who said:
“We must deal in hope. We have a duty to set out a positive and workable road map for the future. I remain positive that we can do that.”
Those remarks show exactly the attitude that Government officials in areas that voted to remain should be taking—not talking about second referendums or somehow brokering a deal to keep other areas in the EU, but working together to create the best way forward for all parts of our nation. There is a lot to be positive about for Gibraltar outside the EU. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) for calling this debate. The people of Gibraltar are British. They are not different from any of us here in this room or any of our constituents. What Her Majesty’s Government simply have to do at this point is to forget that Gibraltar is somehow different from our own United Kingdom. It may not be part of the United Kingdom constitutionally, but in every other sense Gibraltar is part of the Great British family. In any negotiations that are going to affect Gibraltar in the long term, as we discuss our new relationship with the EU and our new path that we are heading along in the wider world, we must include Gibraltar at every stage.
In previous discussions involving Gibraltar, I am afraid to say that our Foreign and Commonwealth Office has thought about Gibraltar at the end of the negotiations, not at the start. This time, things have to be different. I am delighted that Her Majesty’s Government have now made it clear that Gibraltar will be treated equally with every other part of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, of course, England. Gibraltar should be treated the same and should be included equally. I say to the Minister, who I welcome to his place—I know his father would be proud of him sitting on the Front Bench today—that whatever agreement comes out of this, Gibraltar must be included in all of those discussions at the start. If it is not, there is no question but that the Government in Madrid—particularly the existing Government—will try to scupper any negotiations by trying to force our Government to give some sort of concession over Gibraltar. That cannot happen and has to be ruled out immediately.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) has left, because what he said earlier was completely correct. Our FCO has pussyfooted around and been weak for far too long. When Spain shows aggression towards the people of Gibraltar, when it makes life difficult for the people of the Rock, when it stops legitimate travel from one side of the frontier to the other by creating artificial delays, and all the other tricks they play in trying to make life difficult for Gibraltar, we simply have to say to the Spanish, “If you do that to the Gibraltarians—if you make their life hard—you are going to feel the wrath of the British people.” We will not accept it, not at any time, now or in the future. If they treat Gibraltar like that, it is like treating the United Kingdom in that way.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the infringements of Gibraltar’s maritime area by Spanish vessels are increasingly alarming, and that the FCO needs to do more to let Spain know that they will not be tolerated?
My hon. Friend is completely correct. Over the last 15 years as an MP, I have watched how Gibraltar has been treated, as I know you have, Mr Evans. I am afraid to say that we have let the people of Gibraltar down, because when we see incursions into British waters, we simply do not do very much. We might bring the ambassador in, tell him off and say that it is unacceptable, but we are never prepared to take firm action to show the Spanish Government that there are consequences. If they treat Gibraltar in this way, if they illegally allow vessels to go into British Gibraltarian waters, and if they carry on making life tough for the people of the Rock and try to prevent them from being treated equally, we have to say that that is not acceptable. We have to show the Spanish that we are prepared to take retaliatory action if needed.
None of us in this Chamber wants to go down that route. Spain should be an ally of the United Kingdom and a friendly country, but it does not behave like that when it comes to Gibraltar. My hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke is working to raise the issue of NATO flights, and those of us on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly are also going to take up that matter. Spain is supposed to be a NATO ally—a friendly country; a country with which we should be working closely—but how can we work with it if it singles out a section of the British family and effectively bullies them? That is not on, and no one in this House should be willing to stand by and let it happen for a moment longer.
So what should we do? There are lots of practical things we could do. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) spoke eloquently and listed a number of things that we should be doing. First, we can bilaterally agree a common market with Gibraltar. That would reassure it enormously, and would mean that any trading arrangements that are put in place apply as much to Gibraltar as to our own constituents.
My hon. Friend is talking about the NATO context. Yes, Spain ought to be a friendly country and an ally. We are duty-bound and treaty-bound by article 5 to come to its defence. If it were attacked by an external enemy, or any enemy, we would potentially send our people into harm’s way to defend it.
Absolutely. I believe the fact that Spain continues to behave in this manner is a complete breach of the spirit of the NATO treaty. It is very sad for the Spanish people that their Governments continually behave in this way. I do not think that the Spanish people—I speak to a lot of them—have that attitude. Certainly the people who live in La Línea and the Andalucia region do not have any animosity towards Gibraltar. In fact, their economy is dependent on it.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point. The attitude of the central Government in Madrid stands in marked contrast with that of the regional Government in Andalucia, which has always maintained very good relations, that of most of the neighbouring local authorities in the area, and that of the trade unions and most of the business community. The trouble is that Madrid does not seem to care about what happens in Andalucia and the Campo.
Sadly, my hon. Friend is correct. The Government in Madrid use Gibraltar as a political weapon. I say to the Spanish Government—I hope the Spanish ambassador is watching this debate—that it simply has to stop. Our leaving the European Union means that we can defend Gibraltar more strongly, because we have the power to act against Spain if it acts against British Gibraltarians. None of us wishes to go down the route of retaliatory action but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, we cannot pussyfoot any longer. We have to be clear that an attack on Gibraltar in any sense is an attack on the United Kingdom. We treat it equally to any other part of the British family.
Let me go back to the practical things that we can do to help Gibraltar immediately. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) made clear, the people of Gibraltar voted to stay in the European Union. I do not think they necessarily like the EU more than we do, but they are in a special situation: they have a frontier, and they are deeply fearful—and rightly so—that Spain will use the departure from the EU as an excuse to make life difficult and even to close the frontier. I understand 100% why the people of Gibraltar voted the way they did, and why they are so fearful for the future. We now have to do everything possible to help them.
I hope the Minister will quickly take up the common market idea, which the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, has been promoting. Let us try to do these things quickly. Let us not wait. Let us rein back any suggestion that the jobs of the locally employed civilian staff on the military side in Gibraltar will be lost. The people of the Rock are dependent on the financial services and gambling industries, so we must do all we can to protect them. At the end of the day, we have a duty of responsibility to Gibraltar, so we cannot let it lose its financial self-sufficiency and its status in the world—I did not know this until yesterday, but it is the wealthiest part of the globe per capita. It is an enormous success story, and we should be proud of what it has achieved. When the military bases were taken away, it had to regenerate its financial services, gambling and other industries to be self-sufficient. Gibraltar does not depend on the UK Government. It is not like the one or two of our overseas territories that still depend on financial support. It is self-sufficient and wants to remain so. We have a duty and a responsibility—it is in our interests—to make sure it does.
There are other things we can do. I again raise a point that I have raised with previous Ministers. I find it outdated that the people of an overseas territory—particularly Gibraltar—have no voice in this Parliament. There is not even a dedicated Select Committee that deals with overseas territories. There is no elected representation from overseas territories in the UK Parliament. We are the only country in the world with overseas territories that denies them the right to have a voice and some form of representation in Parliament. Gibraltar had to fight very hard to get a voice in the European Parliament. In the end, an MEP—or a share of an MEP—was granted for Gibraltar as part of the South West region. We make decisions about defence, foreign policy, the control of sterling, which Gibraltar uses, and many other things besides, but it is not possible for a Gibraltarian to stand in this Chamber and speak for Gibraltar. It is great that there are so many friends of Gibraltar here, but there should be a mechanism for Gibraltar and the Chief Minister to formally come here and speak for themselves. All sorts of options about how we can include Gibraltar—and, indeed, other overseas territories—after leaving the European Union should be on the table.
Among our overseas territories, Gibraltar is by far the most important issue in relation to Brexit. However, I ask the Minister not to forget that there are 21 territories and dependencies, all of which are nervous about the implications for them if we leave the European Union. Gibraltar is by far the most important one in this context, because it is part of the EU, but I ask the Minister not to forget the Crown dependencies—the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey—because protocol 3 allows them access to free trade with Europe. Equally, other overseas territories, in particular the Falklands, have concerns too.
I take issue with my hon. Friend’s statement that Gibraltar does not have a voice here. There is an all-party group, and it has friends and allies in both Houses. I think he needs to clarify that saying it does not have a directly mandated representative is very different from saying it does not have a voice in this place.
My hon. Friend is completely right. The all-party group on Gibraltar, which he ably chairs, is one of the most effective groups in the Houses of Parliament. In that sense, Gibraltar has a stronger voice than almost anywhere, because there are so many of us who support it. I am delighted that all parties support Gibraltar, particularly friends from the Scottish National party, the Ulster Unionists and the Labour party, although there are not many Labour Members here today—
Quality, not quantity.
My hon. Friend is too modest to say this, but he has spent a huge amount of time campaigning for Gibraltar, certainly over the last 11 years for which I have been a Member of Parliament. We are reducing the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, but is he saying that we ought to have a dedicated Member of Parliament sent by Gibraltar to this Chamber?
I do not see any arguments why Gibraltar should not have its own Member of Parliament. We now have a devolved United Kingdom, with a lot of powers devolved to Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I can see no logical reason why, at a general election, the people of Gibraltar should not be able to send their own representative to Parliament, just as territories of other countries are able to do. That, however, is a debate not for today, but to be put on the table as something to be considered.
At the end of the day, we have a duty and a responsibility, because the people of Gibraltar are not foreign. They are not from a different country; they are part of our family. The one message that we must send out loud and clear from this place is that, whatever happens in the next two years, the people of Gibraltar will be given the same consideration—equal precedence—as we would expect for our own constituents. We cannot find people in the British family who are more loyal and more dedicated to the United Kingdom, to upholding the British Crown and British values, and to serving in Her Majesty’s armed forces—equal to Northern Ireland, or even to Romford; no question. Whatever we feel about other issues, the one thing that we have a duty to do is to ensure that when the negotiations take place, Gibraltar is not, and is never, forgotten.
I am particularly pleased to see you in the Chair, Mr Evans. I also welcome the Minister to his place. He is a man whose career I have watched since he was first elected in 2010 and, to echo the words of many, his father would indeed be proud of him. I thank the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) for securing the debate, which is important, timely and perhaps one we should have had before the Brexit referendum. However, we are having it now and, as with many other things, we are having to think about the implications of Brexit after the referendum.
I should say that, like the hon. Gentleman, the chair of the all-party group, I have visited Gibraltar as a guest of its Government. I have made a speech in Casemates Square, in front of about 10,000 people, calling on Gibraltar to become a member of UEFA and on UEFA to overlook any quarrels with Spain. I put one condition on that, and the Gibraltarians have not broken it, which is that they must not beat Scotland in any game.
I overlooked the club aspect, however, and, as a Celtic supporter, I feel that I should have put in a caveat about Lincoln Red Imps ever playing Celtic. Last week, I was stunned to see Celtic lose 1-0 to Lincoln Red Imps—a result I hope will be overturned tonight, if that does not upset friends in Gibraltar too much—which shows that we have to tread carefully, because we cannot foresee the implications of our words, much like the implications of a Brexit exit. The referendum has many such implications.
To put football to one side—it is a bit of a sore point—and speeding on, we know from the referendum that 96% of Gibraltarians wanted to remain in the EU. I heard the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) saying that they probably do not like the EU much, but I often reflect on that point when I hear people at all sorts of levels complaining about all sorts of levels of government: in Scotland, they complain about the local councils; they even complain, believe it or not, about the Scottish Government, although very little; of course, they make massive complaints about the Government in Westminster; and there are some complaints about Europe, although those are not as great as the ones about Westminster. The radicalisation done by the tabloid press, however, magnifies the European ones to a greater extent than many of the other complaints, so it is important to keep them in perspective.
The prospect of leaving the European Union has created real alarm in Gibraltar. The root of that alarm, which has not been touched on today, is the feeling that the border could close, resulting in the economic stagnation of Gibraltar. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), in an exchange with the hon. Member for Romford, pointed out the benefits to Andalucia, and La Línea in particular, from 11,000 people crossing the frontier daily. Those crossings are very important not only to La Línea, but to Gibraltar, because the essence of the exchange in business and trade is that both parties benefit.
The problem was emphasised, I think by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who said that the Madrid Government simply do not care—the Governments of Andalucia and of Gibraltar care, but, unfortunately, in Madrid they are still playing an empire game. That imperialist mindset should have gone, given the changes in south America and most of the rest of the Spanish empire, but residues are left—isolated rockpools of thinking. Gibraltar, I am afraid, is a victim of such a rockpool.
Spain will, I hope, think and act maturely, because—the hon. Member for Romford said something similar—friends of mine in Spain do not have that attitude towards Gibraltar at all. In fact, in La Línea, people have a very practical attitude towards Gibraltar. Furthermore, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has said that if given the opportunity of further co-operation with Spain, he could double the amount of jobs he has given to people in La Línea.
Gibraltar is an economic magnet, but it cannot itself find the workforce necessary to service its own job needs. In some ways, the situation is similar to that of our friends in Iceland, who find that their economy is growing so fast at the moment that about 10% of the population are migrants who have to come in to service Iceland’s need. Gibraltar needs migrants daily; it cannot house them, but, fortunately, just over the frontier people are living who can migrate, or commute, daily for work needs. That is important to remember, because there we have the nub of the fear about Gibraltar’s problem: if the frontier closes, the economic stagnation of Gibraltar could happen.
If that happened, the prosperity of Gibraltar, which we have talked about, would evaporate and disappear. The responsible thing for Europe as a whole to do, as mentioned by several speakers, is to ensure that that does not happen. Okay, Ireland has three times the growth of the UK and Iceland double the growth, but at the moment the UK and other countries in Europe generally do not have the best of economic situations—in the Iberian peninsula, in particular. To see a honeypot, which is what Gibraltar is, in any way threatened, or even talk of being threatened, is absolute madness on stilts. I hope the Government in Madrid will listen to the Government of Andalucia and take cognisance, so as to ensure that any damage to the economy does not occur.
Gibraltar is an interesting place, as many of us who have visited know: it is British, but not in the UK. That is a very happy circumstance, which I hope Scotland will emulate someday—being British, but not in the UK, as Norway or Sweden are Scandinavian, but not in any Scandinavian political union. That is a way for Scotland to go, so there is a lot that Scotland can learn from Gibraltar about being British but not in the UK. More and more people are looking to Gibraltar for a good example of where to go, and I understand that the people of Gibraltar are looking to Scotland—I hope to touch on that later.
Gibraltar is a nuanced place. I had a moment of mutual fun with a Member from Northern Ireland, who should perhaps remain nameless, when we walked into a café in Gibraltar. There on the wall was a picture of Her Majesty the Queen, which in Northern Ireland means something very particular, but on the other wall was a picture of the Pope. That shows the nuanced history of Gibraltar and its differences from other places. That should be borne in mind: Gibraltar is its own place. It is not an arm or satellite of ours; it is its own place, with its own right of self-determination. If the people of Gibraltar choose to have a close connection with the United Kingdom and to London or wherever, that has to be respected.
Before I make any comment, I should point out that, like my hon. Friend, I have been a guest of the Gibraltar Government on the same terms as the chair of the all-party group.
On the subject of the sense of place, and the rights of and responsibilities for Gibraltar, does my hon. Friend agree that the overwhelming democratic will of the people of Gibraltar, as stated in the European referendum, must absolutely be respected? It is our responsibility, and an obligation, to ensure that we carry forward their clear message.
Indeed. I absolutely agree. The hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst have talked about Gibraltar being fully involved in the negotiations, on the same terms as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The only caveat that I would add is that I do not think Scotland is overly optimistic of having an equal voice. The UK is a family of nations, not a nation, as was mentioned earlier and as we were of course told before our independence referendum. In the European Union, unlike in the United Kingdom, one member’s will is not imposed on other members. That would never be tolerated in Europe, where members are sovereign, but it is tolerated in the United Kingdom, where some members impose on others exactly what their constitutional future will be. The UK perhaps has a lot to learn from the European Union model, and indeed from the words of respect that we heard from the hon. Member for Romford, who talked about overseas territories and people perhaps being governed in a looser family. That is perhaps developmental work for the years to come.
Gibraltarians of course have British nationality; I understand that they have been guaranteed full citizenship since 1981. Gibraltar joined the European Union through the European Communities Act 1972 as a dependent territory of the UK, without, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the customs union, the common agricultural policy or the fisheries policy, although the common agricultural policy does not apply very much to Gibraltar, in that no one could really plough a yard of it. It is, as it says on the tin, a rock. That is probably further testament to its economic success.
Mention has also been made of the idea of the Spanish flag being closer to flying on Gibraltar. The attitude from Madrid—this applies regardless of the country or place to the imperialistic idea that a country can take over somebody else’s will or right to self-determination—utterly sticks in any democrat’s craw. It should not take advantage a technicality, which is what I call the UK’s departure from the European Union. Of course, it is not a technicality in respect of Gibraltar, but for Madrid to see that possibility in that technicality and to make mischief is reprehensible. We must remember that we are talking about machismo in Madrid, and I call on it just to drop that. The empire attitude is gone. An awful lot of nations have given up their empire stuff. Denmark did so 200 years ago and the UK did so—I hope—50 years ago, and for Madrid to maintain a little bit of it is really not useful or helpful at all.
There has been a lot of good will towards Gibraltar in the debate, which is nice, kind and thoughtful, and it is definitely appreciated, but it is not leverage. The UK has given up a lot of leverage by leaving the EU or by threatening to do so. There is concern that the border will close, and I say respectfully to the Minister, whom I like personally, that his muscle and the UK’s impact are not what they could have been if we had voted to remain a member of the European Union. I would not like to see the Gibraltarian economy strangled. We need voices here—in fact, we need voices all over Europe—supporting Gibraltar. We want to hear democrats not just here but in other places across Europe supporting Gibraltar. The people of Gibraltar have the right to move in and out of Gibraltar. It is a small place. Many of them holiday up the coast in Spain, bringing it further prosperity, and Spain’s behaviour is not really what we are looking for.
What is the hope for Gibraltar? From my perspective as a Scottish National party Member—I thank the hon. Member for Romford for acknowledging and taking cognisance of our interest—Gibraltar’s hopes are severalfold. I think that Gibraltarians hope that the Royal Navy immediately will be a bit tougher on incursions. I have a friend—others may know this individual too—called Dale Villa, who was on a jet ski and was chased into the harbour of Gibraltar by the Guardia Civil and had either live ammunition or rubber bullets shot at him. That is totally unacceptable. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was quite right to say that Spain really has to step up to the mark and be seen as a responsible member of NATO.
On responsibility, I am glad that the First Minister of Scotland has been in close contact with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. It is no secret to anyone in this House that we hope for independence for Scotland. We hope to become a sovereign nation, as are the other 27 members of the European Union. If Scotland indeed does become an independent nation, we will be aware of our responsibilities, duties and friendships in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, Norway, the Isle of Man and particularly places such as Gibraltar. Gibraltar obviously has concerns, but if it needed help, I hope—although it might be difficult—that Scotland would look to offer that help and would not run away from being helpful to Gibraltar in the future if the people of Gibraltar so decided.
With tongue in cheek, some people might say that I am angling for a Scottish Gibraltar rather than a British Gibraltar, but I am not at all. The issue is not about the idea of territory or whatever, because at the end of the day it is absolutely meaningless. It is about respecting the rights of the people of Gibraltar to live the lives they want. On that point, the 1713 treaty of Utrecht is often mentioned, but it should be buried and forgotten about. It states:
“And in case it shall hereafter seem meet to the Crown of Great Britain to grant, sell or by any means to alienate therefrom…the said town of Gibraltar, it is hereby agreed and concluded that the preference of having the sale shall always be given to the Crown of Spain before any others.”
That treaty has been superseded in many ways. The French had promised not to aid the Jacobites, but within years—about a year or two later—they did. Perhaps I am happy about that, but in the decades afterwards, the treaty of Utrecht in principle was in shreds in many places, and it is definitely in shreds now because of the UN position on self-determination of peoples. The most important thing is the 1969 Gibraltar constitution. We go over for Gibraltar’s national day, which is on 10 September. That shows that Gibraltar is a very different place and has its own say. As my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, it has its own sense of place, and as democrats, we must respect that.
I end on this point. The people of Gibraltar are looking at Scotland, and indeed some of them are looking at the SNP. I say to them again, “You’re welcome.” Those in Gibraltar who have already joined, but particularly those who have not, should look at snp.org/join and tell their friends. In Scotland, and certainly in the Scottish Members of the UK Parliament—wherever we find ourselves in the future—Gibraltar has a friend. I plead with other capitals across the European Union also to be friends of Gibraltar, and to understand and respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. That point—that we must respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar—must be heard in Madrid from all quarters.
It is a pleasure to contribute under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) on securing the debate, which is necessary in the context of what is being called nervousness. I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister, and I congratulate him on his new role. I look forward to enjoying many a debate with him in Westminster Hall. I do not know whether his title is hereditary, but as his father was also a Member of Parliament, I congratulate him on continuing that line.
May I begin by talking about this concept of nervousness? My constituents in Hornsey and Wood Green voted similarly to the Gibraltarians. One of our polling stations, in Highgate, had 90% turnout, which was above Gibraltar’s 83.5% turnout, and 75% of people in the Haringey local authority area voted to remain in the European Union, so I understand why there is a sense of nervousness and why this debate is necessary.
On a more practical note, I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary met the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, in London on 16 July and reassured him of the Government’s
“steadfast commitment to Gibraltar, and…intention to fully involve Gibraltar in discussions”
on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. The Foreign Secretary also emphasised:
“The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty”—
that is clear from the earlier referendum—
“and we will respect their wishes.”
In the spirit of working together to get a solution following the 23 June vote, Opposition Members will want to work carefully and closely on the detail of what it will mean for Gibraltar to leave the European Union.
To pick up points made in the debate, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about a proper conversation with Spain. It would be welcome to see at some point a sense that the trilateral conversation is happening again. I know the situation is fraught, but it is important to talk and have discussions, yet the tone is crucial, so I hope Members here will be helpful in that regard. We must remember the geography of Gibraltar and the fact that so many people from Spain are intimately involved, with up to 12,000 residents from Andalucia crossing to work on the Rock on a daily basis. We want to get towards a practical discussion about what the new reality means on a day-to-day basis.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), in his usual way, gave us five points to think about—it is always helpful to outline them in that way. Of course, freedom of movement is the big one and it is one of the most significant things we will have to think about nationally as well. The second is dependency and trade links. Like the City of London, Gibraltar has very much a services-based economy. The hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) quite correctly suggested the Moroccan market, which is something we need to look at carefully in considering the possible ramifications for the technicalities of leaving the European Union—I wish it was all just technicalities and that there was not the dampening effect that we currently see on our economy.
On the principle of full involvement in negotiations, once again, somehow we need to get the trilateral conversation going again with more energy. I look forward to the Minister commenting on that—where he thinks we are at and where we need to go—and re-emphasise the importance of the tone of those discussions. I would also be happy to hear what he thinks about the free trade agreement between the UK and Gibraltar—a kind of mini-common market. The important thing is that we keep all options on the table and continue to talk, and that people do not feel as though there is a big gap, but that we keep the energy going around our common economic and prosperity agenda.
Finally, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst quite rightly raised the issue of Ministry of Defence personnel. We would not want there to be any nervousness or inject any sense of questioning into that relationship, particularly as regards the families based there. Certainly we on the Labour Benches want to see continuity, not massive change. It is far too early to talk about any change in that regard, but it is quite correct that he raised that today, so as to reassure the families and communities.
We are committed to working through these issues as they come up. It is clear that 24 June was not a fist-pumping moment for the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. It was not independence day for us in Hornsey and Wood Green—I had people crying on my shoulder when I went to the local shop to buy a pint of milk. It has been quite a difficult time. Indeed, today I have my first meeting of the all-party group for the European Union post-23 June. However, what is important about the House of Commons is that we debate and talk about things and keep all options open while maintaining a sense that our economy, prosperity and trade relations are extremely important in that regard, as is the sentiment around how we will cope, post the referendum vote.
In welcoming the Minister to his new role, like everyone else here today, may I remind him that it is customary to leave a minute at the end for the proposer of the motion?
Thank you very much, Mr Evans. It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West). She said in an earlier interjection that it was quality rather than quantity from the Labour Benches and I think she was spot-on in that comment. She also spoke about nervousness in the aftermath of the referendum. I have to say that she demonstrated substantially less nervousness than I feel in speaking from the Front Bench for the first time.
I thank and congratulate my hon. friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) on his brilliant work in securing this debate and leading the all-party group for Gibraltar. Our hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) said that Gibraltar does not always have a voice in this House, but he ensures, as do all Members here today, that it has a powerful voice in the House. I know that one of his first visits on being elected to Parliament was to Gibraltar. He has visited numerous times since and he does a magnificent job of speaking up for the people of Gibraltar and their concerns in the Chamber. I want to channel the energy and passion that he has shown, along with other Members in the Chamber, in standing to represent the Government.
As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford contributed powerfully to the debate. I assure him that we will engage on the issues of concern that he raises. I pay tribute to the work over many years of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), who did a great deal on Gibraltar, representing its interests in the UK’s relationship with the EU—indeed, he was often called the Minister for Westminster Hall in many debates about EU matters in this Chamber, including three specific Gibraltar debates. I look forward to working with his successor, the new Minister for Europe, for whom I have a number of messages from the debate on Gibraltar business in future.
I am delighted to speak for the first time for the Department for Exiting the European Union, working with our new Secretary of State in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the new Department for International Trade. My new Department has four main aims: to lead the policy work to support the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU and to establish the future relationship between the EU and the UK; to work closely with the UK Parliament, devolved Administrations, overseas territories and Crown dependencies and a wide range of other interested parties on what our approach to negotiations should be; to conduct the negotiations in support of the Prime Minister, including supporting our bilateral discussions on EU exit with other European countries; and to lead and co-ordinate cross-Government work to seize the opportunities and ensure a smooth process of exit on the best possible terms. We have heard in the debate that those terms need to include the best possible terms for Gibraltar.
The new Department will equip the UK to prepare to make a success of leaving the European Union, to meet the challenges and to seize the opportunities that that represents, some of which we have heard about today. As a Minister in this new Department, I welcome the opportunity to hear Members’ interests, concerns and ideas about the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU. It is of course early days—our Department is in the process of being formed and shaped, and there will be a period of extensive consultation ahead of us—but I am pleased to begin today with this important debate. It reflects the significance of Gibraltar that it is the subject of the very first debate in the history of our new Department.
The Secretary of State, whom I am privileged to work with, is no stranger to Gibraltar. He spent a number of years as Minister for Gibraltar. Indeed, if hon. Members look at Hansard from 29 November 1995, they will find an example where 8,000 Gibraltarians took to the streets to demonstrate in favour of his policies, which is probably a record few other Ministers have achieved.
This debate is timely. The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected. As the Prime Minister said, “Brexit means Brexit.” The treaties of the European Union apply to Gibraltar by virtue of the UK’s membership. Clearly, Gibraltar’s relationship with the European Union will need to change and it is right that we should involve Gibraltar fully in that process.
Before I embark on the core of my response, it is right to recognise the result of the referendum in Gibraltar, as the Opposition spokesman did. Given that such a huge proportion of voters in Gibraltar backed remaining in the European Union, many people—as Members from all sides have acknowledged—will no doubt feel frustrated that their view was not reflected by the majority in the UK. I know many on the Rock will feel concern about the future.
I make no secret of the fact that, like 96% of the population of Gibraltar, I voted to remain, but now there can no longer be leavers and remainers. Now the decision has been made, and it is the responsibility of all of us to secure the best possible outcome in the national interest of all UK citizens. We all need to work together to pursue this bold and positive new agenda. I am here today to demonstrate our commitment to ensure that the interests of Gibraltar and its citizens are protected and advanced.
It was right to put the decision to the British people and it was right to put the decision to voters in Gibraltar, alongside their counterparts in the United Kingdom. While Gibraltarians did not get their desired outcome, I am pleased they were able to play their part in this historic decision. The speeches we have heard in this Chamber reflect our determination to make it work for them.
I now want to deal with some of the detailed issues raised in today’s debate. I want first to make it clear that the outcome of the referendum does not affect or in any way diminish our steadfast and long-standing commitment to Gibraltar and its people. Since 1713, the United Kingdom has always stood by Gibraltar, and we always will. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned the meeting in London between the Foreign Secretary and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar on Saturday 16 July. The Government’s assurance on sovereignty, which is well known, has not been changed in the least by the outcome of the referendum. We will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes. Nor will the UK enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. In short, the United Kingdom will continue to protect the right of the people of Gibraltar to remain British for as long as they want to. We will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy.
Several hon. Members commented on incursions. It is absolutely right to continue to stand up strongly to those, and I will make sure that officials relay the strong views that I have heard in the Chamber, from my hon. Friends the Members for Romford and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and others, about the need to be robust in standing up to incursions. That will be communicated to both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As we prepare for the process of exit from the EU and negotiation of future trading arrangements with its members, we will fully involve Gibraltar, to ensure that its interests are properly taken into account. In practice, that means that whatever format is established in negotiations with the European Union, as we prepare for the process we will work in partnership with the Government of Gibraltar, to ensure that we have a shared understanding of their interests and objectives. Discussions have already begun, and I have no doubt that they will continue throughout the summer. We will work together to consider all the options for Gibraltar. I was pleased to note that, as has already been commented on, one of the Prime Minister’s last engagements as Home Secretary was a meeting with the Chief Minister. I think that is a good start to the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Government of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar’s economy has rightly been praised for its strength and success in recent years. It is important to make it clear that there will be no immediate change in the way Gibraltar’s people can travel or the way its services can be sold. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke pointed out the importance of the border with Spain and ensuring that it functions properly. As many hon. Members pointed out, that border is also hugely important to the thousands of Spanish workers who cross every day to work in Gibraltar. It is in the interest of the economy of Spain, Andalucia and the whole region that it is made to work. That is why maintaining a fully functioning border remains one of our top priorities, and we believe it should be a priority for the Spanish Government as well. I am pleased to say that delays at the border have dropped to levels similar to those of before the summer of 2013, but we are not in the least complacent and we continue to monitor the situation carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made an interesting point about financial passporting. We need to take that into account carefully as we look at the proposals for a UK-Gibraltar common market. I welcome the Chief Minister’s proposal for a common market between the UK and Gibraltar and the support that the proposal has received today—not surprisingly—from across the House. The Chief Minister is understandably keen to demonstrate that whatever relationship is ultimately reached between the UK, Gibraltar and the EU, trade between the UK and Gibraltar will be able to continue as it always has. I want to assure right hon. and hon. Members that the UK Government are continuing to analyse that important but quite technical proposal as a matter of urgency. We will work closely with our friends in Gibraltar as we move forward. The point that was made—that we should listen to the concerns of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce—is a good one. I undertake that we will do that. Knowing the strength of the financial services, it is important to listen to Gibraltar when we have conversations about passporting.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) pointed out—very well, I thought—there are wider opportunities. As we have debates on leaving the European Union, we must ensure that we look at the opportunities, as well as the challenges, and maximise them for the whole United Kingdom, including its overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and certainly including Gibraltar.
In summary, the United Kingdom deeply values British sovereignty over Gibraltar and is fully committed to promoting the interests of all Gibraltarians. We will work in close partnership with the Government of Gibraltar to ensure that its interests are properly taken into account in the forthcoming negotiations with the European Union. Together, we will continue to explore ways to ensure that trade continues between the UK and Gibraltar, in the same way it does now. There are many unknowns as we start along the path of leaving the European Union. We do not yet know what the terms of our deal with the EU will look like. However, the UK Government will do their utmost to get the best possible deal for Gibraltar, working closely with our friends on the Rock. The people of Gibraltar have built their remarkable success story through hard work, ingenuity, resilience and adaptability. I know that Gibraltar and Gibraltarians will rise to the challenge again and make British Gibraltar even stronger. Our commitment to Gibraltar remains solid as a rock.
Thank you for your excellent chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank all hon. Members from across the House for their support today on this important and crucially timed debate. I am grateful for the Minister’s summing up remarks, in which he reaffirmed the British Government’s commitment to the people of Gibraltar and their sovereignty and freedom, and to working towards the best possible deal. What I want to say to them is: “We understand your concerns and fears, but let us work together, for what I think is an amazing, historic opportunity to thrive and prosper as a free people once again.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of the EU referendum on Gibraltar.