On Tuesday morning there was a mini-debate on Gibraltar in the House of Commons. It was not in the main chamber but in Westminster Hall and was opened by Jim Dobbin, the Labour – Co-op MP for Heywood and Middleton. He prefaced his words by stating his interest as he is also the Chairman of the all party group on Gibraltar.
Jim Dobbin, stood up at 11.00 and continued until 11.15. He frequently gave way so that other MPs - Labour, Conservative, DUP - could also have their say. Then at 11.15 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mark Simmonds, spoke as well as answering MPs questions until 11.30.
So let us first set out what this meant in Gibraltar time. Here on the Rock Jim Dobbin took the floor at noon, sat down at 12.15, the minister then spoke from 12.15 to 12.30. The details of the debate can be checked in Hansard and I will post the link at the end of this article.
The MPs who took part in this debate were very knowledgeable on Gibraltar but were talking largely in the past tense. They spoke about the abuses over the summer, the EC Inspectors, the Guardia Civil shooting and so on and so forth but what they didn’t know as they questioned Mark Simmonds was that at that very moment a Spanish State vessel was sitting in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and refusing to move. They didn’t know and Mark Simmonds didn’t tell them. Had they been aware of that fact then the comments addressed to the Minister would have been far more pointed, heated and angry.
So the question is this: did Mark Simmonds deliberately mislead the House by not coming to the debate and making a statement on the latest blatant incursion by a Spanish State vessel?
The Minister opened his statement by saying: “I congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) on securing this important debate at such a significant time and on the articulate and passionate way in which he outlined his case.” Indeed but he didn’t tell Jim Dobbin, Bob Stewart, Caroline Dinenage, Martin Horwood, Ian Paisley, Simon Hughes and Robert Neil – the MPs whose questions he answered – just how “a significant time” it was.
Now to our own Government’s statement which was made on Tuesday afternoon. “The Government condemns the sustained incursion into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) by the Spanish state survey vessel RV “Ramon Margalef” yesterday and today and its dangerous navigation in our waters. The Government takes a very serious view of this development which represents yet another escalation of Spain’s campaign against Gibraltar on land and at sea.
“The lengthy duration of the illegal incursion, which lasted about 21 hours, is something new. …The latest serious development involved a Spanish state vessel remaining in British waters overnight and ignoring the warnings to get out issued by the Royal Navy. Indeed, the vessel came within 250 metres of the entrance to Gibraltar Harbour and sailed in close proximity to other ships at anchor in the Bay of Gibraltar. This led to a separate warning issued to them by the Gibraltar Port Authority on the grounds of safety to shipping.”
So the “Ramon Margalef” arrived on Monday, was ordered to leave by the Royal Navy which she refused to do, she stayed in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters overnight yet when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mark Simmonds, addressed the House of Commons on Gibraltar at 11.15 on the Tuesday, (12.15 Gibraltar time) he failed to mention it.
There can only be two explanations for his actions. The first is that he was totally unaware of what was happening in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters in which case why is he the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?
The second is that he deliberately misled the House on such an important matter by acting as if nothing had happened. If that is the case why is he still the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?
(The Hansard text can be found at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131119/halltext/131119h0001.htm#13111939000001).