Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable yesterday urged Gibraltarian voters to rally behind his party at the forthcoming European elections, as he insisted that it represents the ‘strongest and clearest’ anti-Brexit party.
In doing so he slammed the Labour party for its “ambiguity” on the issue and said its lack of clarity was pulling traditional Labour voters to the Lib Dems in “very large numbers”.
Sir Vince restated the Lib Dems claim to be the leading Remain party and the main challenger to the Brexit Party in the European elections.
He was speaking at the conclusion of full programme of events in Gibraltar yesterday as part of the party’s campaign process.
Sir Vince said he hoped the people of Gibraltar would back the party at the polls on Thursday May 23 because: “We are unambiguously an anti-Brexit, pro-Remain party.”
He was joined in Gibraltar by candidates for the South West and Gibraltar Region – number one on the Liberal Democrat list Caroline Voaden and Gibraltarian Luke Stagnetto – as well as former Gibraltar MEP, Sir Graham Watson.
Their arrival in Gibraltar came as the Lib Dems overtook Labour in the European election race, although it is still behind The Brexit Party, according to a new poll.
Quizzed about that poll, Sir Vince said: “I don’t think it’s a surprise that the Brexit Party are out in front because all the Brexiteers are gathering behind one party.”
“So far you’ve got several remain parties, I think as the electorate realise the significance of it there now getting behind us because we’re the strongest and also the clearest, unambiguous anti-Brexit party.”
“I think over the last few days a lot of traditional Labour supporters are so disgusted with their party leadership and their complete ambiguity on this issue that they’re supporting us as a matter of principle.”
“We’re here to support Gibraltar,” Sir Vince said adding: “You want to preserve your way of life, your living standards and you’re doing it as part of the British family and as part of the European family and that’s been shown unambiguously with these massive 90% plus polls that you’ve had to stay linked to the UK and to stay linked to the European Union.”
The group held a number of meetings with the Chief Minister, Opposition parties and pressure groups including the Cross Border group and the Environmental Safety group.
A walkabout along Main Street gave Mr Cable and his team an opportunity to engage with the electorate, to gauge their views and to distribute promotional material.
The visit also included a trip to the border which enabled Mr Cable and Ms Voaden – both first time visitors to Gibraltar – to see how it operates.
Sir Vince explained that he had not realised how much of a “choke point” the border is.
“The fact that the Spanish Government can at any point it chooses cause an enormous amount of inconvenience and given the geography the only real protection is a combination of law and politics,” he said highlighting the EU law of freedom of movement as well as Britain’s ability to back Gibraltar within the channels of the EU.
“If we leave, as we’re already seeing from a very belligerent approach of Spanish politicians, there isn’t anybody on the other side to defend you.”
Sir Graham welcomed the strong backing that the party received in Gibraltar.
“What is clearly happening is that people are dividing into two camps, they are using the European election as an opportunity to say ‘no, we don’t want Brexit’, or in some cases ‘yes, Brexit must go ahead’,” Sir Graham told the Chronicle.
“I think that’s why the Liberal Democrats have overtaken the Labour Party and the Conservatives, because people are saying the Liberal Democrats are the only major party that’s clearly against Brexit.”
In the 2014 European elections, the Liberal Democrats polled 67% of the vote in Gibraltar.
It is the only party that has included Gibraltar in its manifesto.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday afternoon, the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia: “They have made such a clear and firm commitment in their election manifesto – first of all to stand up for the rights of the people of Gibraltar in Europe and secondly to stand up for the people of Gibraltar to determine their own future.”
“Those are two fundamental areas of policy and it makes me very proud that the Liberal Democrats are the only party to have made such firm and categorical commitments in the manifesto,” he added.
The Lib Dems are also the only party fielding a Gibraltarian candidate in these elections.
Mr Stagnetto is currently completing a politics and international relations degree in the South West Region, at the University of Bristol.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats gave me the opportunity to stand in its slate and people dismissed it.”
“They said I’m only sixth on the slate and it was a token gesture,” Mr Stagnetto said insisting it was much more than that.
“The Liberal Democrats were the only major party to list Gibraltar in their manifesto, to make a commitment to our right as Gibraltarians in Europe and our right as Gibraltarians to our right to self-determination.”
The YouGov study put Sir Vince’s party, which is campaigning with a Stop Brexit message, on 16%, one point ahead of Labour, while the Tories dropped to single-digit levels of support on 9%.
The Brexit Party was on 35% according to the survey of more than 7,000 people.
The YouGov study again showed the Tories in fifth place, behind the Greens on 10%. Change UK were on 5% and Ukip on 3%.
YouGov’s Adam McDonnell said: “Both the Conservatives and Labour look set to lose a majority of those who voted for them in the 2017 general election.”
“Only one in five (20%) of those who voted Conservative just under two years ago are sticking with the party for next week’s European Parliament vote, with 62% instead planning to back the Brexit Party.”
“Labour is also losing a large proportion of their voters, mainly to Remain parties (Lib Dem 21%, Green 16%, Change UK 6%).”
Compared with YouGov’s previous study for The Times on May 8-9, the Lib Dems and Brexit Party were up one point, Labour and the Conservatives both down one.