With Brexit on the horizon, it is even more important that Gibraltar should have a representative at the House of Commons in Westminster, ensuring that they are able to have a voice on matters concerning Gibraltar at the heart of Britain’s seat of democracy, writes Jo Ward.
The Representation in Westminster movement is campaigning for people to sign a petition with a view to presenting this to No. 10 and the House of Commons in October.
Founded by Chairman Joe Caruana in2006, the aim of the non-political movement is to get Representation in Westminster whilst at the same time retaining all Gibraltar’s devolved rights or level of self-government as contained in the 1969 and 2006 Constitution.
More than 13,000 people have already signed the petition, including the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who, along with several individuals across the spectrum of political parties, has signed in a personal capacity.
“This is a people’s initiative which has the backing and support of the government,” explains committee member Wilfred Stagnetto. “The Government is giving us some financial help in the form of small amounts for the printing of forms and banners, and they have also given us a verbal indication that they would back the cost of us going to Westminster to present the petition when the time comes.”
The concept for the movement came from the former leader of the ILF/Reform Party Lyana Armstrong–Emery. “I was standing as an Independent for Devolved Integration,” she states. “At the same time there were a few UK MPs who had the same idea and so we started the Devolved Integration Movement, but changed the name more recently to Representation in Westminster.”
“The 2006 constitution gave us maximum self-governing powers,” Lyana says, continuing “so we have had devolution and we are full British Citizens through the 1981 Act, meaning that we are as British as any British citizen in the UK and now we just need to cement that by having our own MP in Westminster.”
Aided by a wider committee of twelve and a group of members, Joe, Wilfred and Lyana are proud that the campaign has been so hugely successful. “We had to open another petition list for non-residents to sign,” Wilfred says. “It is quite incredible that visitors who are only here for a couple of hours, both British and other nationalities, want to support us and for me that carries a lot of weight”
“We also have the backing of some members of British Parliament,” Joe states. “They agree that it is time that Gibraltar had representation because we are British and loyal to Britain and our loyalty needs to be recognised.”
“Back in 2005, when the European vote was approved in the House of Commons, there were about twelve people who spoke at the debate for the motion of the European parliament and they all said that it was about time that Gibraltar had a representative in this House,” Joe confirms.
Craig Mackinlay MP is one such supporter who has demanded the right for Gibraltar to elect an MP to Westminster: “Gibraltar, as it similarly leaves the EU will lose its current entitlement of being represented as part of the South West region in the European Parliament; the argument was valid then that Gibraltar should have elected representation linked with the UK: post Brexit it becomes even more necessary.”
Andrew Rosindel MP thinks there could be an argument for Gibraltar to have a single seat in the Commons. “We’ve reached a point where we now have no option but to bring Gibraltar fully into the UK.”
To reinforce why it is so important for Gibraltar to have its own MP, Wilfred gives an example with a paraphrased quote from a speech by a minister from the Spanish government in the European Parliament; ‘… Gibraltar is not represented in Westminster, therefore Gibraltar cannot be considered part of the UK, therefore any dealings that Europe has with Britain will not apply to Gibraltar.’
“Gibraltar’s presence in Westminster is a tangible reason for the world to see that we are a region of the United Kingdom with our devolved power,” Joe says, “a devolved region of the United Kingdom just as Scotland is a devolved region, except that we are a little bit more advanced in that than Scotland.”
Wilfred went on to express his view that it is a lack of democracy if Gibraltar is mentioned in Parliament, however infrequently that may be, and it is not democratically represented.
When Gibraltar repeatedly applied to take part in the Olympic Games as an independent squad, its requests were dismissed. “If Gibraltar has an athlete in the Olympics, they don’t represent Gibraltar, they represent Great Britain,” Lyana says. “Yet we are British citizens and it should work both ways, so it is about giving us an equal voice.”
“This will not be an easy process but it is something worth fighting for,” Wilfred states.
There is still time to add your signature to the Representation in Westminster Movement. Simply go to their Facebook page.