The unprecedented runway stand-off between the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Gibraltar Police last February stemmed from “ambiguity” over UK legislation that does not apply to Gibraltar, the UK’s Armed Forces Minister acknowledged yesterday.
Mark Lancaster was speaking at the end of short visit to the Rock during which he discussed the issue with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
He insisted that despite the tension caused at the time by the incident and the RGP’s subsequent arrest of three senior members of the military establishment here for obstruction, the relationship between Gibraltar and the MoD remained solid.
The incident last February – in which the RGP physically prevented an RAF transport plane from taking off – arose from an investigation into serious offences allegedly involving a serving member of the military posted here, and who the MoD was trying to fly back to Britain for questioning.
The MoD had insisted it was a military investigation under UK jurisdiction and sought to block the RGP from investigating whether any offence had been committed here, even though Gibraltar’s police force has primacy over any criminal investigation on the Rock.
Military managers here insisted they had powers under the UK’s Armed Forces Act of 2015, which allows them to investigate service personnel suspected of criminal offences even if posted overseas.
But Mr Lancaster, who was responsible for steering that legislation through the UK parliament, yesterday acknowledged publicly that the act did not extend to Gibraltar.
The minister’s statement is important because although had the MoD had apologised for its handling of the incident, it had never publicly acknowledged the point on jurisdiction.
Both Gibraltar and the UK now want to ensure there is no repetition of the standoff last February, which caused disruption for hundreds of people trying to cross the runway.
To that end, Mr Lancaster said the UK was in discussions with the Gibraltar Government to have an Armed Forces Act passed into Gibraltar’s legislation to avoid any similar situations in the future.
“I accept that the Armed Forces Act didn’t apply to Gibraltar when we passed it through legislation in the United Kingdom and I accept that, through the Government of Gibraltar passing this Act, any ambiguity that may have been in play will be resolved,” Mr Lancaster said.
“That hopefully will sort out any jurisdiction issues, both with the Act and the protocol that will go alongside it.”
“I’m quite confident that the incident on the runway isn’t a dent in the relationship and once that Act is passed, that should resolve any issues.”
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