The UK Government is re-affirming the city status of Gibraltar after finding that the accolade granted by Queen Victoria had gone unrecognised on official lists for 180 years.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Gibraltar’s inclusion in the list “rightly signifies” the Rock’s close links to the UK and its “rich history and dynamism”.
Although the Rock has long been known as the City of Gibraltar – the term is used in the 2006 Constitution, for example – it was never included in the UK’s formal list of cities.
Gibraltar was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1942 but until now had been omitted from the UK’s list of recognised cities because it was awarded under Diocesan Letters Patent and not under the normal City Status Letters Patent, the Cabinet Office said in a statement.
That meant the City of Gibraltar never ended up on the Home Office's official.
Now, Gibraltar has been included in a newly published record of 81 recognised cities, “confirming its special status in the Realms of Her Majesty the Queen and the family of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories”.
“This status is testament to the close relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, 99% of Gibraltarians reaffirmed their commitment to British sovereignty in a referendum of 2002,” the statement said.
The decision was taken after the UK Government carried out detailed research in the National Archives and uncovered documents establishing the City of Gibraltar’s status going back to 1842.
“It is excellent to see official recognition given to the City of Gibraltar, a huge accolade to its rich history and dynamism,” Mr Johnson said.
“This official recognition re-affirms Gibraltar’s special status in the Realms of Her Majesty, and rightly signifies the pride that Gibraltarians feel for their community and their distinctive heritage.”
The updated list is being published in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year and follows the award of eight new grants of city status and to Southend-on-Sea in honour of Sir David Amess MP.
Gibraltar had earlier this year entered a Civic Honours competition for formal city status in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Year, and before the archival research uncovered the formal Diocesan Letters Patent dating back to 1842.
Alongside Gibraltar, the full list of recognised cities from the Overseas Territories include Hamilton (Bermuda), Jamestown (Saint Helena) and Stanley (Falkland Islands) which was awarded the status as part of the Platinum Jubilee competition.
Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo welcomed the formal recognition, although he said city status was “really nothing new” other than inclusion on the official list.
“I think it’s great that this is finally now going to happen and we’re going to be on the list,” he said.
“It’s a moment for people to reflect on the fantastic relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, and perhaps an opportunity to come and visit the City of Gibraltar as soon as possible.”
In practical terms, he acknowledged, “…it makes very little difference, because of course all of the relevant parts of the recognition of Gibraltar as a city have already been taking effect since 1842.”
For Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, the 1969 Constitution declared Gibraltar as a city and the “fanfare” 180 years later “isn’t a WOW moment”.
It “doesn’t reflect our modern rights as a people or solve our problems,” he said on Twitter.
“If UK wants to help, it should ensure we get a safe and beneficial EU treaty two years late.”
In the statement on Monday, the UK Government thanked Bluemantle Pursuivant, a junior office of the College of Arms in London currently held by Mark Scott, for bringing Gibraltar’s absence from the official list to its attention.
“The cities in this list are incredibly rich with history and culture, and the local people of those areas are rightly very proud to see their city’s significance put to paper,” said Kit Malthouse, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
“I’m hopeful people based in these places, particularly the new cities, can reap the benefits of their home’s increased global standing and that it will attract more inward investment for local businesses.”
Is this a distraction from the real importance of Gibraltar?