Jack Lopresti – 2016 Speech on Gibraltar and the EU Referendum

Below is the text of the speech made by Jack Lopresti, the Conservative MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke, in Westminster Hall on 20 July 2016.

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 historic 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.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)

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.

Jack Lopresti

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.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

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.

Jack Lopresti

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 to see that the new Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), 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.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jack Lopresti

I was on my last sentence, but please go ahead.

Mr Dodds

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.

Jack Lopresti

Absolutely. A lot of us have been fighting almost a rear guard 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.