Bob Neill MP: Vote for Gibraltar to remain in the EU
Secretary of the APPG for Gibraltar, Bob Neill MP, writes that the referendum will be critical for Gibraltar, the only UK overseas territory which shares a land border with mainland Europe.
Much of the debate on our membership of the European Union has, quite understandably, focused on the economy, the question of sovereignty and national identity. I passionately believe that you can be both British and European. It is disappointing, therefore, that the debate has often ignored the importance of our decision upon some of the most staunchly British places of all.
Writing as the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, and as a regular visitor to the Rock, I say with some experience that Gibraltarians are as patriotic as they come. Any doubters should look at the outburst of celebration on Gibraltar National Day every year – commemorating Gibraltar’s overwhelming decision to remain under British sovereignty in 1967 – or, for that matter, the result of the 2002 referendum, which in a repeat of the previous vote saw 99 per cent choose Britain. They also overwhelmingly want to remain in the EU.
Gibraltar is unique among our Overseas Territories in being physically linked to mainland Europe. Thanks to our membership of the EU, its people enjoy access to the Single Market and access across the border with Spain. Gibraltar’s economy has flourished as a result, and just like the constituency I represent, Bromley and Chislehurst, thousands of people work in the financial services sector. Make no mistake: if the UK leaves the EU, Gibraltar leaves with it. Any chances it had of securing a deal of its own have effectively been written off, with the Spanish Government already making clear it would demand joint-sovereignty for Gibraltar in return for ceding access to the Single Market, something Gibraltarians vehemently oppose, and which no British Government would ever impose.
Over 10,000 people cross through the frontier with Spain every day to work on the Rock, and when the Spanish authorities behave outrageously, as they often have done with intrusions into Gibraltarian waters or intentionally causing delays at the border, both the UK and Gibraltar are currently able to fall back upon the legal rights enshrined in the European Treaties. This is something I know William Hague has spoken about many times since leaving the Foreign Office, often referring to our membership of the EU as his ‘trump card’ in resolving problems of this kind.
Together with Gibraltar, Britain has most influence when it works collaboratively with the EU. The idea that we have somehow lost our sovereignty to Brussels exposes a concerning naivety of the way the world really works. We pool a small percentage of our sovereignty, true, but only to give us more power at the top table, allowing us to face the global geopolitical challenges confronting us all so much more effectively than by ourselves. I do not see anyone in the Leave campaign objecting to us pooling a small measure of our sovereignty in Defence by being members of NATO.
I genuinely believe that if you really want to be a friend of Gibraltar, in practice, and not just words, you shouldn’t be seeking to withdraw from the EU. Ultimately, we’re all part of the same British family – something Philip Hammond’s recent visit to the Rock made clear – and we must think about our Gibraltarian friends, and others, when we cast our vote on 23 June.
Bob Neill MP is the Chair of the justice committee & the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst
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