Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the representation of Gibraltar by a Member of the House of Commons; and for connected purposes.
All 14 of the UK’s overseas territories are different; all are special. All share our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as their Head of State; most are internally self-governing. The overseas territory that now sits in a unique constitutional position post-Brexit is Gibraltar. It is the only territory within the European Union and will be leaving the EU with the UK on 29 March 2019. Its relationship with the European Union is quite different from any other part of the Union, in that it is a member of the single market, but not its customs union or Schengen, despite having a land border with the EU. Gibraltar is not to be confused with the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, which have very different constitutional arrangements and are not in the EU, now or in the future.
Few were surprised that Gibraltar voted remain in the EU referendum. This reflected its residents’ concerns that the EU had played, at times, a role in balancing the often fractious demands of its giant neighbour. The good life and strong economy—a beacon in an area of high regional unemployment—I can but guess also played a part in its local vote for no change.
For over 300 years, Gibraltar and its people have played their part in support of Britain’s history as a global leader in commerce and an international player of influence. It occupies a unique geographical position as the gatekeeper to the Mediterranean and has one of the Royal Navy’s most important international bases. Whenever Gibraltar has been presented with a choice over its future, notably in the shared sovereignty referendum of 2002, Gibraltarians have rejected any change by vast margins. Gibraltar has been and continues to be an unwavering supporter of the UK. Its outstanding support during times of conflict has been continuous, and we have a close relationship built on trust and reciprocal loyalty. Similarly, the people of Gibraltar have strong support in this House. I salute the good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the overseas territories, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar.
Since the decision to leave the EU, the people of Gibraltar and its Government have shown nothing but pragmatism and respect for the decision of the referendum. Nobody could fail to be impressed and reassured by the evidence given by the Chief Minister to the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in January last year. The UK’s Brexit vote must make us think anew and re-assert once more that the Rock is British and will remain so. Brexit provides us with an opportunity to build further on our relationship and further protect the Rock’s rights and interests. That is best guaranteed by a closer electoral bond, which would also send a clear message to Madrid about the perpetuity of that bond.
Unlike other overseas territories, Gibraltar does not have the option of formal independence, which, however unlikely, would be available to others should they so wish it. The 1713 treaty of Utrecht ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain in perpetuity. The treaty had a sting, in that Gibraltar can only be British or Spanish. Its own unilateral independence is not an option. Whereas most overseas territories have their own currencies or shared currencies—the Eastern Caribbean dollar, under the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union—or use the euro in some cases or the US or New Zealand dollar, only the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and St Helena, with Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island, share sterling as their domestic currency.
Gibraltar’s truly unique feature, however, is that it already has electoral links with the UK, via its attachment to the South West region for representation in the European Parliament. That will disappear upon Brexit. The way to protect that attachment is for this Parliament to allow the people of Gibraltar direct representation in this House. There was a cogent argument given then that Gibraltar should be connected to the UK through electoral representation, and there is a clear argument now. Gibraltar’s population is a little light numerically to qualify as a constituency. It has a population of 33,000, with an electoral roll of 23,000. However, this is in the same ball park as—I may need help pronouncing this—Na h-Eileanan an Iar in the Outer Hebrides, a constituency with 21,260 voters.
Of course, we will always respect the devolution of powers that are in place, and having a Gibraltar MP in this House should not be an impediment to Gibraltar’s future constitutional development. Gibraltar’s constitution of 2006 is a tribute to the fact that it has a vibrant and responsible democratic system of government. That is why my Bill would not change the devo-max settlement of its 2006 constitution. If taken further, it would not impose a Westminster MP on Gibraltar. The decision whether to take up the offer of an MP in Westminster for Gibraltar must be made by the residents of Gibraltar alone and decided by their own internal procedures. The mechanics of how that might work would need to be discussed with Gibraltar’s leaders, but I reiterate that it would be for the people of Gibraltar to decide whether to have such representation here in our Parliament, which would become their own.
There is a local campaign group in Gibraltar, called the Representation in Westminster Group, that has been arguing for a number of years that a democratically elected MP in Westminster can only strengthen the Rock’s link with Britain and act as a permanent counter to any Spanish claims. The campaign says that it has already collected almost 9,000 signatures in support of UK Parliament representation, which it will deliver here once 10,000 signatures have been amassed. That is an impressive number—close to half the eligible voters.
As we leave the EU and forge a new global Britain, and given the Rock’s unique constitutional position with its membership of the sterling zone and rich historical links to Britain, there has never been a more appropriate time to cement our relationship with Gibraltar by offering it this constitutional bond. It would signal a perpetual and lasting link of shared interests. Gibraltar may be small, but its success is a matter of pride for the British people. Gibraltar’s constitution gives its citizens full powers of self-governance, other than over foreign affairs, defence, internal security and interest rate monetary policy. Gibraltar has always been and will continue to be a good and true member of the great British family. I very much hope that with this Bill we can reward the Gibraltarian people for their steadfast and loyal support for Britain.
Question put and agreed to.
That Craig Mackinlay, Sir Graham Brady, Maria Caulfield, Sir David Crausby, Tim Farron, Daniel Kawczynski, Priti Patel, Andrew Rosindell, Sammy Wilson and Nigel Dodds present the Bill.
Craig Mackinlay accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 231).