Here is my speech in the debate on Gibraltar called by the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 January 2015
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin where the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) ended. We in this country have important relations with Spain in the context of a number of issues. As the Committee itself made clear, Spain is an important European Union and NATO partner, and co-operates with the United Kingdom on a number of our strategic priorities. Some of those are listed in the report, including counter-terrorism and the combating of drug smuggling. There is an economic agenda within the European Union, and a reform agenda. Migration policy is a complex issue, and there are wider international and trade matters. Both the United Kingdom and Spain have historic associations with both north and south America that date from the colonial period, and both countries have a strong interest in the current talks on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. Beyond that, both countries, as democratic, pluralistic societies, are appalled by terrorism, whether it is carried out in Paris or in countries such as Iraq and Syria.
We have a common agenda in many respects, and for that reason it is really shocking that the present right-wing Spanish Government, run by the Partido Popular, have decided to tear up the co-operation developed from 2004 onwards by the previous Labour Government and the previous Socialist Government—run by the Partido Socialista Obrero Español—as well as the Cordoba agreement to which the right hon. Member for Croydon South referred.
We began our Gibraltar inquiry following our decision to conduct an inquiry into United Kingdom consular work, and to visit the consular hub that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had established in Malaga, in southern Spain. From Malaga, we went to Gibraltar. Our visit to Malaga and our conversations with British
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people living and working in Spain—about 1 million people live there happily—showed us that Spanish people are hospitable, kind, friendly and supportive. Many Spanish people in the local authority that we visited were assisting British citizens who were resident in Spain.
Meanwhile, in the past two or three years an increasing number of Spanish people—predominantly young people—have come to work in London and other parts of the United Kingdom, including cities, because of the economic difficulties in Spain. There is two-way traffic. There are families consisting of children born in one country and parents from the two countries. There is a mixture consisting of many people with connections between the United Kingdom and Spain, including some senior political figures in our Government.
Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a huge number of Spanish people work in Gibraltar and get on very well with Gibraltarian people, and that we should respect that?
It became apparent to me during the inquiry—the Committee Chairman touched on this—that there are 8,000 or 9,000 people who every day travel from Spain into Gibraltar to work, so a very large number of Spanish citizens depend on the Gibraltarian economy for their employment and prosperity. Why, then, are the Spanish Government behaving in such a stupid way by stopping those workers either travelling to work or coming home because they face queues and delays of two, three or four hours in getting across the border in their vehicles or, sometimes, on foot? This is an ideologically driven agenda designed by people in Madrid who clearly do not care about the livelihoods of the members of the trade unions I met here in the House of Commons who had come from the south of Spain to talk to British MPs about the difficulties they face. They were hosted by Unite, which has associations with workers both in Gibraltar and internationally in Spain.
A clue is provided by the politics of Andalucia and the south of Spain: they generally vote for the left, whereas the Government in Madrid are dominated by the right. Sadly, therefore, since the change in 2011 the Madrid Government have shown contempt for their own citizens and their economic interests by behaving in a vindictive way against Gibraltar and at the same time damaging the interests of Spanish people and workers.
The British Government should be doing more to highlight the situation, as should international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation and those that look at issues to do with human rights and free movement.
Why has this issue come up at this moment in time? In Spain—and, indeed, elsewhere—there has been a rise of populist opposition against the incumbent Government. The governing party might believe it can pander to those opponents by raising the nationalist card over Gibraltar and thereby diverting attention from the country’s internal economic problems. I do not think that is going to work in the long term, but we shall see, because
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Spain, like the UK, is supposed to have an election this year. I do not think the governing parties in either country will get the results they want, but I do not want to get diverted into domestic politics.
Our Government must be more robust on this matter internationally. We have seen in a number of international forums that when the British Government are determined, they can make a real difference, but we have not been strong enough or vocal enough on the issue of Gibraltar. There is clearly international support for the UK position in many countries, but we are not doing enough to build that support, whereas Spain is working very hard internationally in its own interests.
A resolution tabled in the US Congress last year referred to the rights of self-determination of the people of Gibraltar. It is clear from a letter that has only just become public that, from September, the Spanish ambassador to the United States lobbied extremely hard against it, using all kinds of implied threats about the consequences, to try to stop that bipartisan resolution being carried in the US House of Representatives.
Internationally, it is clear that the present Spanish Government, unlike their predecessors, are not interested in coming to a modus vivendi on these issues. The previous Spanish Government did not accept, and would never accept, that there was any question of British sovereignty of Gibraltar, but they accepted the reality that there was an agreement to differ and that they should therefore deal with the practical issues and leave the other issues to one side. That is how the improvements from 2004 onwards were achieved and sustained. The ideological approach of the current Spanish Government, however, seems to put a nationalist agenda before the interests of their own people, and ahead of co-operation with the UK and the interests of the people of Gibraltar.
Our report has highlighted an important issue. Apparently the situation has improved since we published it, with a reduction in the number and intensity of obstructions to people travelling into and out of Gibraltar, but that can be switched on or off at any time, as we saw when we visited. When we drove into Gibraltar, there was no queue. We went to our hotel and within an hour we had a call saying that suddenly there was a massive backlog at the border because the Spanish police were imposing restrictions and searching all vehicles. There was a big queue and the car park was full in the space of only about 40 minutes to an hour. This is politically motivated and it is being run by special paramilitary police from Madrid, not the local police. It is all part of a special, politically designed operation.
The truth needs to be told. We need to get this agenda out: there are people in Spain who have an agenda based on an ideological approach that damages the working of the EU—it damages the possibility of agreements within the EU being arrived at in a timely manner—as well as the interests of the Spanish people and the democratic, self-determination interests of the people of Gibraltar. I hope the Government will heed what is said in this debate and be more forceful and vocal on these matters in future.