Spain ‘unhappy’ over David Cameron’s visit to Gibraltar

The Spanish government has said "it does not like" the fact that the British PM is travelling to Gibraltar as part of his campaign against Brexit.

Spain 'unhappy' over David Cameron's visit to Gibraltar
Fabian Picardo met David Cameron in Downing Street in 2013. Photo: AFP

David Cameron will visit Gibraltar today to campaign for a Remain vote in the EU referendum, in what will be the first visit by a UK Prime Minister to the Rock since 1968.

The surprise visit was announced late on Wednesday but provoked a swift reaction from the Spanish government.

The government issued an official communique over the visit expressing its displeasure, while the acting Prime Minister warned that Gibraltar was rightfully Spanish whatever the outcome of the EU referendum.

Speaking on the radio, Mariano Rajoy said: “The government does not like the fact that Mr Cameron is travelling to Gibraltar. The debate is about whether the UK remains within the EU or not. It should therefore happen in the UK and not Gibraltar”.

Rajoy added: “Spain continues to think that Gibraltar is part of its own national territory, whether Brexit wins or loses.”

Meanwhile José Manuel García Margallo, Spain’s acting foreign minister told reporters on Thursday that Brexit would “cause a huge problem for Gibraltar that could be solved by a joint sovereignty agreement.

“We want Britain to remain within the EU but in the case of a Brexit, the situation in Gibraltar would be radically changed.”

“It would be a problem of the first order for The Rock. We would talk to the UK about it and I think the most sensible solution would be to reach an agreement on joint sovereignty.”

Cameron will address a rally at 5.30pm in Casemates Square on the tiny British Overseas Territory home to 32,000 people.

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister urged all Gibraltarians to turn out for “the big one”.

“OK, So this is the big one. The one we all thought would never happen has become a reality. The Prime Minister was on a TV screen wishing us a happy National Day at Casements a couple of years ago. Many said to me “pity he won’t come in person”. Well the Gibraltar Stronger In Campaign has managed to bring him over.



“That is historic. Never before has a PM come to Gibraltar, in mid-campaign or otherwise, to make an argument before and to make clear the UK’s position on Gibraltar”.

“Let’s show the world how Gibraltar welcomes its 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.”

The latest opinion polls have shown majority support for Brexit, a move that could have dire consequences for Gibraltar.

Earlier this year, Spain’s acting foreign minister said that if Britain left the EU he would “raise the question of Gibraltar” the very next day.

“It is safer and more secure for Gibraltar to remain in the EU in order to deny Mr Margallo the opportunity to pounce on us,” Picardo responded.

But Cameron will be preaching to converted as a recent poll showed 88 percent of voters on The Rock would vote to Remain.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.