David Cameron will be in Gibraltar today to campaign for Remain, in the first visit to the Rock by a serving Prime Minister since 1968.
Mr Cameron will address a rally in Casemates Square at 5.30pm alongside Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, the leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party.
He is also expected to meet privately with local Remain campaigners and the leaders of Gibraltar’s three political parties.
The surprise visit has been planned for several days but was only confirmed last night.
“I am delighted that the Prime Minister David Cameron will be in Gibraltar to address our Casemates rally today to make the case for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar voting to remain within the European Union in next week’s referendum,” said Gemma Vasquez, who heads the Gibraltar Stronger In campaign.
“It is important that we turn out massively to hear what Mr Cameron has to say. It is also important that he sees the huge support there is here for the Remain Campaign.”
“I therefore call on all my fellow Gibraltarians and residents of Gibraltar to be at Casemates today from 5pm to be part of the most important political event in our nation’s history.”
The visit comes as polls in the UK show that voters are sharply divided over next Thursday’s referendum.
Opinion polls over the past few days have shown support tipping towards leaving, a step that could rock the EU as well as the unity of the United Kingdom, and have dire consequences for Gibraltar.
Gibraltar’s political and community leaders are united in the belief that Gibraltar and the UK are better off inside the EU, a message that Mr Cameron will reinforce today.
The Prime Minister will also likely reaffirm the UK’s double-lock sovereignty commitment to Gibraltar, just as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond did during his recent visit to the Rock.
Last night, Spain expressed its displeasure at the news of Mr Cameron’s trip to the Rock.
Spain, in common with other European countries, wants the UK to remain within the EU and supports Mr Cameron’s campaign for Remain.
But the visit of a serving Prime Minister has nevertheless rankled with the acting Partido Popular government, which has adopted a strident position toward Gibraltar in recent years.
Its initial reaction to the announcement, however, was measured and restrained in tone.
José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, told Efe that the UK and Spain were “partners and allies” that nonetheless had “profound differences” over Gibraltar.
“We don’t want those differences to interfere with our friendship,” he said.
Sr García-Margallo repeated Spain’s traditional position Gibraltar, insisting that the Rock is a colony and that the UK must engage in bilateral sovereignty dialogue with Spain.
The last time a serving British Prime Minister travelled to Gibraltar was in 1968, when Labour’s Harold Wilson held talks with Rhodesia’s Prime Minister, Ian Smith, after his cabinet unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965.
The meeting between the two men was held on board Royal Navy ships berthed in Gibraltar, but it had no direct relevance to the Rock itself.
Prior to that, Winston Churchill visited Gibraltar during World War II in his capacity as Prime Minister.
In that respect, Mr Cameron’s visit today is an unprecedented, landmark event in Gibraltar’s modern history.
“This is a great and historic event for Gibraltar,” the Chief Minister said last night.
“It demonstrates the commitment to Gibraltar that Mr Cameron has displayed since we were first elected.”
Mr Picardo said he would stand alongside Mr Cameron to address the crowd this evening and “give the event a Gibraltar angle also”.
“Gibraltarians now need to turn out massively to support this visit,” he said.
“We need to fill Casemates completely, however hot it may be tomorrow, with Gibraltarians of all generations to show our support for the Remain campaign and for David Cameron himself.”
Last night on Facebook, Mr Picardo urged the community to greet Mr Cameron “with open arms” and give him “the greatest Gibraltarian welcome ever given” to any visitor.
“Let’s make him feel like Kaiane the day she came back from Miss World, or Sir Joshua and Peter Isola the day they came back from the United Nations,” he wrote.
“David Cameron deserves a huge and positive Gibraltar welcome because the fact is that whenever I have needed his support he has been there for Gibraltar.”
“I have met with him when it has been necessary and he has stood up for us more than any Prime Minister in history.”
“So let’s pull all the stops out. Let’s get all our people into Casemates. Let’s show the world how Gibraltar welcomes it’s friends.”
“And let’s support the Gibraltar Stronger In Campaign so that tomorrow anyone in the UK watching the news will see how much voting to Remain in the EU matters to us.”
News of the visit was also welcomed by the GSD, whose leader Daniel Feetham underscored the importance of its timing.
“The visit to Gibraltar of a serving UK Prime Minister would be significant at any time but more so at a time when the In campaign needs all the sup- port it can get,” he said.
“It shows how Gibraltar’s vote can make a difference and I again urge us all to use our vote in a massive show of support for our rightful place in Europe.”
“Today I will have the opportunity to meet with Mr Cameron and I call for all of us to support the Casemates rally in the after- noon by attending in mass.”
“Make no mistake this is an historic moment for Gibraltar and we owe it to future genera- tions to vote Remain.”
Mr Cameron’s visit to Gibraltar comes after a former Conservative defence secretary called on him to make clear that the sovereignty of Gibraltar “will not be a question” even if the UK votes to leave the European Union.
Dr Liam Fox, who will also be in Gibraltar today to appear on a GBC debate, said last month that “even the vaguest inference” that Britain might hand over sovereignty to Spain in the event of a Brexit “goes beyond acceptable limits”.
Dr Fox, who advocates Brexit, was speaking after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said during a visit here last month that leaving the EU would ‘seriously impair’ the British Government’s ability to stand up for Gibraltar.
“To pretend in any way, shape or form that that policy would change whether we are in our outside the European Union is inexcusable,” Dr Fox told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“The only way we can deal with that is for the Prime Minister to say the sovereignty of Gibraltar will not be a question we will tolerate inside or outside the European Union.”
“Their security is guaranteed by the United Kingdom. I think we need that clarity.”
“Even the vaguest inference that we might hand over the sovereignty of Gibraltar to Spain if we are not inside the European Union is completely unacceptable.”
The Prime Minister’s visit to Gibraltar today is part of a relentless schedule of campaigning ahead of the June 23 referendum.
Speaking in Cardiff yesterday, the Prime Minister appearing with Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, acknowledged that the referendum campaign was “undoubtedly close”.
But he said the alliance of politicians and groups backing a vote to stay in the European Union was a reason to listen to the arguments in favour of Remain.
Mr Cameron said people were still making up their minds about which way to vote on June 23.
“It is undoubtedly close, it is undoubtedly a big debate. People are still thinking about it,” he said.
“Carwyn and I would agree that when someone says to you in a general election that they haven’t decided how to vote, that means they are just being polite, they are not actually going to vote for you.”
“This time, actually, I think people are genuinely undecided. They want to hear the arguments, they want to hear the facts and figures.”
“I think it says something that when Labour and Conservative politicians are prepared to stand together on an issue, together with Greens and Liberal Democrats and trade unionists and businesses and voluntary bodies, I don’t see that as some establishment stitch-up, I see that as a reason really to listen.”