So let me ask you this – who speaks for Gibraltar in Europe? You might suggest the British Minister for Europe, David Lidington. He certainly has the title but as Gibraltarians know all too well he speaks for and defends British interests which can be totally different from those of the Rock.
So we have to look to Gibraltar’s Euro MPs? So how many Euro MPs does Gibraltar share with the South West of England constituency? I have to admit I was one out in my answer, it is six. Now name them!
Ah, you are probably as baffled as I was – well except for one exception. Three are Tories – Giles Chichester (you have probably heard of him or at least his father), Julie Girling and Ashley Fox. Two are members of UKIP – Trevor Colman and the Earl of Dartmouth. The one I have heard of because he works hard for Gibraltar is the Lib Dems' Graham Watson.
Now with six elected Euro MPs in the European Parliament Gibraltar should be punching way above its weight but sadly the reality is rather different. Whilst Giles Chichester has been known to give a nod towards the Rock sadly his two Tory colleagues haven’t and for all the use Trevor Colman and the Earl of Dartmouth are, the latter might as well be a South West of England pub.
To Graham Watson’s credit whilst he represents all the people of the South West of England as one of their Euro MPs he also fights tenaciously Gibraltar’s corner in the EU. On numerous issues from the La Linea toll madness through to pollution he speaks for Gibraltar and the Rock is well served.
Graham Watson was first elected to the European Parliament in 1994 before the South West of England constituency existed as such and well before Gibraltar was added to it. The seat was then Somerset and North Devon and Watson romped home with a 22,500 plus majority – the first Lib Dem returned for a British Euro seat.
I guess he is now a Euro veteran having been elected for a fourth time in 2009. In this parliament he sits on the foreign affairs committee and is Chairman of the Parliament’s Delegation for relations with India.
I chatted recently with Graham Watson and said that I had always perceived that as far the EU itself was concerned it would rather Gibraltar wasn’t on its agenda and that Britain and Spain would sort issues and disagreements out for themselves. He said: “The Commission or Council would indeed prefer the two member states to sort it out but debate is easier in the European Parliament.”
I then wondered whether if in the European Parliament Spain offered a joint response on Gibraltar issues regardless of whether it was PSOE, the centre right Partido Popular, Izquierda Unida or the regional parties taking the stand? I was surprised to learn that: “Spanish MEPs do vary, the Socialists taking a softer line and the Catalans sometimes being pro-Gibraltar.”
The Lib Dems in the UK have always been very supportive of Gibraltar; the Rock’s right to self-determination and have close links with Dr Joseph Garcia and his Liberal Party. Now the Lib Dems are one of the two parties of government, but of course the party leader Nick Clegg is married to a Spaniard, so are they able to influence foreign policy on the Spanish – Gibraltar issue.
“To a point” was Graham Watson’s reply but more may be revealed on this subject in the near future. For now my lips are sealed but rest assured this Lib Dem Euro MP is working hard on the Rock’s behalf and will be arguing Gibraltar’s corner at a key meeting in the coming weeks.