by Sir Simon Hughes
As all Gib well knows, Gibraltar and the UK are recognised as a single member state in the European Union. This has been the case ever since we joined the EU together in 1973. So, ever since the European Parliament was first directly elected in 1979, I have voted for the party I want to represent me in the European Parliament. But, unlike the rest of us in the UK, you in Gibraltar had to fight through the courts to have votes in these elections and to be represented. So as people in Gib well know, the first European Parliament elections on the Rock were not until June 2004. This is therefore only the fourth EP election for Gib – even though it’s the ninth EP election for the UK. But it is the most important European Parliament election for all of us. And nowhere more important than for Gibraltar.
In 2016, I had the honour to be the guest speaker at the Gibraltar launch of the campaign for the UK and Gib to remain in the EU. And you did us proud. First result to declare – and with 19,322 of you, 95.91% on an 83.64% turnout, voting remain – with only 823 Gibraltar voters voting for leave. Little did we think at the moment of the result from Gib that the overall UK and Gib result would be to leave. Even less did we then think that nearly three years later we would still not have left and that we would be taking part in elections for the European Parliament again this year.
But here we are. This Thursday is voting day. And the people of Gibraltar have a great democratic tradition to continue – to lead the way in casting their vote that makes most clear that Gibraltar still wants to stay in the EU and wants the UK to stay in the EU. Because it is still possible that the UK and Gibraltar can be given another opportunity to confirm whether we want to leave or not, we need the largest number of elected representatives to argue for this.
My contact with Gibraltar goes back for many years and will, I hope, carry on for many more years to come. As a proud Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP, I have with colleagues stood steadfast in defending the interests of the people of Gibraltar inside parliament for 32 years and outside for the last four. And we have been equally clear for all of that time that being part of the EU was good for Gibraltar and good for the UK. This week is the time for all of us to say this again.
Of course there are other parties which argue the same case – the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Greens and now there is a new party – Change UK. But none has been as large and clear a voice inside the UK and European Parliament for so long as the Liberal Democrats. The best way for the Gib voice to be heard this week is for the voters of the Rock to put their one cross on the ballot paper next to the Liberal Democrat name and symbol – and maximise the chances of as many Liberal Democrats as possible being elected not just for Gibraltar and the south-west of England but from Gib and all of the UK.
Just a couple of other but very important things to bear in mind. Former MPs from Conservative and Labour parties are giving their votes to the Liberal Democrats this week – Matthew Parris and Lord Heseltine and Gibraltar’s adopted son and Freeman of the City of Gibraltar, Andrew MacKinlay. Nobody has to change their voting habits permanently; you can vote at future Gib elections for whichever party or candidates you wish. We are asking you this week only to lend us your votes this time – and without presuming which way you may wish to vote in the future.
Second, it is really important, particularly for young people, that you use your vote. Whether it is to continue in an EU without roaming charges, or with best opportunities for university education and research, or jobs, or peace in Europe and the world, we need you to vote for our peoples to stay with and work with our neighbours and friends and not to leave them.
Third, every extra Liberal Democrat vote this week adds to the case against Brexit.
And last, but by no means least at all, and uniquely of all parties, a young Gibraltarian, Luke Stagnetto, is one of our Lib Dem candidates. This makes clear our commitment to the Rock, to young people and to the future. Voting for Luke, voting Liberal Democrat, voting to remain in the EU is the most positive thing Gibraltar can do this Thursday.
Be proud and lead the way again. This Thursday could change history – very much for the better.
Sir Simon Hughes is the Chancellor of London South Bank University, a former Liberal Democrat MP and a longtime friend of Gibraltar. He was deputy leader of the party and Minister of Justice in David Cameron’s Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to 2015.