UK should not have powers to legislate ‘over the heads’ of Gib’s elected government

The UK Government’s reserved powers to legislate “over the heads” of Gibraltar’s elected government should be removed from Gibraltar’s constitutional documents, the Gibraltar Government has told a House of Commons select committee.

In a written submission to the Procedure Committee, the Gibraltar Government said Gibraltar should remain permanently in a constitutional and political relationship with the UK, and that any reform of the 2006 Constitution should make provision for representation in one or both Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

But it said too that Gibraltar would be “jealous” of its existing legislative powers and that any such representation must enhance self-government, not diminish it.

“Gibraltar has no desire or ambition to become involved in or influencing the domestic affairs or day to day business of the United Kingdom within Parliament,” the submission to the committee said.

“However, the opportunity to be able to express and set out Gibraltar’s own concerns in Parliament could have an important impact on ensuring that the UK does not, simply through not being aware of our very specific needs and circumstances, unknowingly legislate in a way that has serious negative impact on Gibraltar’s own affairs and interests.”

“Having an MP who could express Gibraltar specific concerns and interests in the Chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords, in addition to exchanging views ‘in the corridors’ with colleagues, would help to foster a new and more modern connection between the UK and Gibraltar.”

The House of Commons Procedure Committee was asked by the Speaker, Sir Lyndsay Hoyle, to examine options for Overseas Territories representation with the House of Commons committee mechanism and proceedings more generally.

The committee’s inquiry, which has now stopped taking evidence, is examining issues including the UK Parliament’s role in creating legislation that extends to OTs and whether these are sufficiently represented in the process; whether the Commons committee system offers a vehicle for the Parliament to work with OTs; what level of representation in Westminster would be most effective for OTs and what procedural steps would be required; and how arrangements for the OTs compare to those of the Crown Dependencies.

In its evidence to the committee, the Gibraltar Government said that as a result of Brexit it was working “more closely and directly” with the UK Government “than at any time in recent decades”.

It welcomed news that different ministries in the UK Government would be assigning a minister tasked with understanding the “specific concerns, issues and challenges” facing the Overseas Territories to better resolve any issues that arise.

“However, Gibraltar is jealous of its Constitutional powers to legislate through the Gibraltar Parliament and considers the use of Orders in Council as unacceptable,” the Gibraltar Government said.

“The day to day running of Gibraltar’s affairs is for its own government and Parliament alone.”

“It may be that some legislation passed by Westminster can impact, directly or indirectly, on Gibraltar interests.”

“Equally, UK has interests where it would want Gibraltar to remain aligned.”

“In our close contact with FCDO we work to ensure that our legislation reflects the reasonable concerns and interests of the UK.”

“A prime example of this would be in relation to transparency of our companies register and in our essentially simultaneous implementation of sanctions, such as has been the case following the illegal invasion by Russia of the Ukraine.”

“Therefore, whilst Government of Gibraltar firmly believes that Gibraltar must remain permanently in a constitutional and political relationship with the United Kingdom, the British family of nations and the Commonwealth, we are strongly of the view that HMG’s powers to legislate over the heads of the elected Gibraltar Government for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of Gibraltar, which are currently reserved to the United Kingdom, should be removed from Gibraltar’s constitutional documents.”

In a three-page submission to the committee, the Gibraltar Government also reflected on the 2006 Constitution and the prospect of reform, including representation in Westminster.

“The Government of Gibraltar takes the view that its 2006 Constitution needs to be updated to take into account the impact of the decision to leave the European Union and the further development of the right to self-determination of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar,” the Gibraltar Government said.

“Our firm belief is that any new Constitution should make provision for the people of Gibraltar to be represented in one or both of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.”

“This would have to be agreed in a manner which had no effect of diminishing or reducing the existing degree of self-government but, instead, enhancing this.”

“Additionally, we believe that responsibility for the international representation of Gibraltar, including external action by Gibraltar in its areas of competence and responsibility should be formally recognised.”

The Gibraltar Government’s submission to the committee noted that the relationship between the UK and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies brought with it an obligation to comply with international obligations, norms and standards.

It said Gibraltar’s experience within the EU had illustrated that being able to tailor legislation to Gibraltar’s specific needs, while also meeting EU obligations, had provided a “positive and important platform” that allowed Gibraltar to prosper on the back of good regulation and compliance.

In that context, the Gibraltar Government said its position was that each UK territory was different.

“The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are different at territory-to-territory level and we believe that in the case of Gibraltar that journey though EU membership has brought us close together with the UK and that we must continue to work together to maintain that proximity and trust,” it said in the submission to the committee.

“We believe it is important to continue to develop our ties and self-government simultaneously.”

“Comparisons between territories are not helpful and we believe the focus should rather be on each individual OT, thus creating the bond and engagement that works best as between them and the United Kingdom.”

“Our position is that we should look forward to achieving a relationship with the United Kingdom that works for our people, reflects our right to self-determination and also reflects recognition of our proven commitment to international standards where we are allowed a level playing field.”

“We also aspire to have such a relationship that would delist us from the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories which currently define our relationship as essentially colonial in nature.”

“Whilst neither Gibraltar nor the United Kingdom accept that our relationship is colonial in nature, it is important that the international community understand that reality too.”

The Government also said that committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords had been “exceptional and efficient” in taking on board Gibraltar’s views and monitoring the effectiveness of the UK Government’s defence of Gibraltar’s wishes and interests.

In the wake of Brexit, parliamentary committees in Westminster had listened closely to Gibraltar’s views and concerns in both public and private meetings, and had taken an active interest in Gibraltar.

“Being able to respond to inquiries held by these committees is an excellent platform for Gibraltar’s concerns to reach Peers, MPs as well as ministers and officials,” the statement to the committee said.

“Equally, working visits by MPs, Peers and Committees are essential to get our concerns clearly across to Parliament and, indeed, Whitehall.”