Monday was an important day for Gibraltar. It was Gibraltar Day in the City of London hosted by the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and also there was an urgent debate in the House of Commons on the cross border delays which drew all party support. However I would argue the most important event of Monday was that the Labour Party demonstrated it was firmly behind Gibraltar and its right to self-determine its own future.
Of course the Labour Party was never off-side but was tainted by the attempts of its former Premier, Tony Blair, who to appease Spain’s Prime Minister José María Aznar, tried to bump Gibraltar in to a joint-sovereignty deal. He was aided and abetted in that task by his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Europe Minister Peter Hain. The stain of Hain has been with the Labour Party ever since.
However it should be remembered that the triple-lock to Gibraltar’s security was not a Tory invention but Labour’s. Also one of the most effective of Gibraltar’s MEPs was Labour’s Glen Ford who fought hard for the Rock and only lost his seat because of the socialists’ electoral collapse in the UK. Also the emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday was secured by Jim Dobbin. He is the Labour/Co-op MP for Heywood and Middleton and is Chair of the All Party Gibraltar Group. So the Labour Party, a sister party of the GSLP, have been good friends of Gibraltar and will continue to be so.
The important contribution to Monday’s debate came from Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister, Emma Reynolds. The key words were: “The Opposition continue to support the self-determination of the Gibraltarian people and their right to remain under British sovereignty, as we did in government.”
This drew the response from the Europe Minister, David Lidington: “I am grateful for what the hon. Lady said about her support for British sovereignty over Gibraltar and respecting the rights of its people. I particularly welcome her remarks, if they mark a break with the proposals for shared sovereignty and the betrayal of the people of Gibraltar that the Labour party supported when in office.”
Even Ian Paisley the North Antrim DUP MP after welcoming the strong statement by the Minister added: “and the equally strong statement from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) on the Opposition Front Bench about Gibraltar’s sovereignty.”
Labour is back on track and Lidington’s acidic remark accusing the Labour Party of “betrayal” would have been water off a duck’s back to the very capable Shadow Europe Minister. It would have been surprising if he hadn’t made it but he should be very wary of using Gibraltar to score political points in the future. Gibraltar needs the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour to speak with one voice in its support.
Emma Reynolds also opened the way for her boss the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, and indeed the Labour Party Leader, Ed Miliband, to talk about Gibraltar without looking over their shoulders to the Blair era. The deeds of Blair, Straw and Hain are consigned to books: it is the words and actions of Miliband, Alexander and Reynolds that now count.