‘US should back Gibraltar against Spanish bullies’

Gibraltar on Tuesday called on the United States to use its diplomatic heft to help end a bitter dispute over its sovereignty, accusing Spain of "bullying" the tiny British territory amid a flare-up of tensions.

'US should back Gibraltar against Spanish bullies'
"The United States must stand for the right of people to determine their own future," Gibraltar's head of government, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

"The United States must stand for the right of people to determine their own future," Gibraltar's head of government, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.

"I don't think there's anything in the American psyche that says that individuals like me and the Falkland islanders and the Gibraltarians should be told under whose sovereignty they will come."

Picardo is on a charm offensive — his fourth trip to the United States this year — in a bid to win international backing for Gibraltar and Britain in a festering diplomatic row with Spain.

The territory of 30,000 people perched on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula bordering Spain this year marks the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht which ceded its control to Britain.

But in recent months Spain has stepped up its long-standing campaign to wrest back  the rocky and strategic promontory that overseas the gateway into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic.

"How can it be that the United States might not be concerned that there are 30,000 people in Gibraltar who are being bullied into changing their sovereignty?" Picardo asked at an event hosted in Washington.

"Issues like the Falklands issue and the Gibraltar issue create instability amongst those who should be allies," he argued.

"If we believe in the principle of self-determination then there is only one argument that the United States must defend that principle," he added, highlighting the position of US overseas territories such as Guam or Puerto Rico.

Picardo told news agency AFP that he hoped Washington, which has remained neutral in the row, would offer a statement backing the staunchly pro-British Gibraltarians right to self-determination.

And he said the territory was determined to fight back against what he called Spain's attempt "to choke the economy" by imposing stringent border and export controls leading to long lines at the frontier.

Madrid's actions raised questions about its bid to become a member of the UN Security Council, he alleged.

It was "a hypocritical example of how Spain is prepared to defend principles of democracy in the whole world, but won't defend it in her own backyard," he told AFP.

"In my view it really casts a question mark over their idea that should be one of the new members of the Security Council in 2015, when they themselves are causing a flashpoint over the Gibraltar issue."

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.