I am starting this article not in London or Gibraltar but in France. In recent weeks I have been covering the French presidential elections and there is one more to come in June when France’s voters choose a new parliament.
I believe that French overseas territories already send MPs to the Assemblée Nationale in much the same way that Ceuta and Melilla do to Madrid. The latter two North African enclaves are considered an integral part of Spain and hence are represented in both the lower and upper house.
What is different in this French election in June is that French voters overseas can also elect an MP for a constituency that is not in France or one of its territories thanks to legislation that was introduced in 2008.
I make no political point here but I have be in frequent contact with Axelle Lemaire who is the Parti Socialiste candidate for a constituency that takes in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. In other words France has created a Northern Europe constituency covering ten countries although the vast majority of the voters are in the UK.
Now this is a different animal altogether. From June there will be French MPs who directly represent in the parliament in Paris its nationals who live outside France’s sovereignty territory.
Gibraltar having a seat at Westminster has often been discussed before but one problem is that the Rock would only have 20,000 voters whereas the average UK constituency is far bigger: on average between 60,000 and 80,000 electors. Hence if it was to come about the pressure would be for Gibraltar to be included as an extension of an English constituency as it is for the Euro elections. Even with 20,000 voters the Rock would be the tail on this dog.
Britons overseas can still vote in their last UK constituency subject to a number of previsions. However if the British Parliament followed the French model there could be a British Constituency for say the Iberian Peninsula covering Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar. Indeed there may need to be a number of constituencies as the French Northern Europe constituency will have around 130,000 voters whereas several million Britons live on the Iberian Peninsula.
How would such a constituency operate in Gibraltar? How would you define a British voter? I am not going to get in to the distinction of whether Gibraltarians are deemed full British citizens because I suspect it is a minefield and I would step on the first one. I understand that Gibraltarians have the right to be regarded as full British citizens and of course they vote in a British constituency for Europe – but then so do Commonwealth residents in the UK.
The fact remains if Britain followed the French model then Gibraltar could have a voice at Westminster either as part of an Iberian constituency or perhaps for the Mediterranean islands. Voting would be on UK party lines: but there is no reason why a Gibraltarian MP should not be elected and speak for the Rock and the other constituents in the House of Commons. It is an interesting thought.