“Modern colonialism?” Chief Minister writes to Andrew Mitchell M.P.

Any attempt by the UK to legislate directly in Gibraltar would be “a democratic abomination” amounting to “utter and unabashed modern colonialism”, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a letter to a Conservative MP.

Mr Picardo was writing to Andrew Mitchell, one of the main backers of a legislative move in the UK to force British overseas territories to make registers of beneficial ownership public as a part of corporate transparency drive. The move, which envisages the UK legislating in overseas territories through a mechanism called an Order in Council, was included in an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act passed by the UK parliament last week. It will have no practical effect in Gibraltar’s case because the measures it seeks to implement will already be in place here well ahead of the deadline envisaged by the UK.

page1image1819296But the Chief Minister has warned that the move risks setting a damaging precedent in the UK’s relationship with its overseas territories, including Gibraltar. The warning was set out in a detailed four-page letter sent to Mr Mitchell before the legislation was rubber-stamped by the Uk Parliament last week. In the letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Chronicle, the Chief Minister explained that Gibraltar enjoyed “full self-government” under the 2006 Constitution in all matters other than external relations except EU matters, defence and security. While the UK retained powers to legislate directly for Gibraltar, these had never been used.

Mr Picardo reminded Mr Mitchell that Gibraltar’s government was democratically elected every four years and that Gibraltar complied with international standards on all matters.

“If an elected government of Gibraltar gets things wrong – as, no doubt, all governments of all nations do – or if we take a contrary view to UK on any matter of policy, insofar as they do not put the UK in breach of its unequivocal international obligations those are matters for the people of Gibraltar,” he wrote. “It would be a democratic abomination that a Government or a parliament that is not elected by the people of Gibraltar should countenance legislating for Gibraltar. Indeed, it would be utter and unabashed modern colonialism.”

And he added: “If you think that there is an argument with any democratic legitimacy that people should be subject to laws made by legislatures that they do not elect or have direct representation in, I would be very interested to read it.”

Mr Picardo reminded Mr Mitchell that Gibraltar and the UK shared the same stance on the issue of registers of beneficial ownership, adding that Gibraltar had acted ahead of other EU countries to put one in place. “My concern is that your measure seeks to establish a precedent which is, in my respectful submission, entirely anti-democratic,” he wrote. “The principle that the parliament in Westminster – in which Gibraltarians have no directly elected or other representative – legislates to require the UK executive to make laws for Gibraltar in areas where there is no international breach by us, but where we may have different views to the UK, would, in effect, suspend democracy in Gibraltar or in any other relevant overseas territory in respect of those matters,” Mr Picardo stressed his comments were confined to Gibraltar given each overseas territory had “very different” constitutions.

Mr Picardo said that even though MPs and peers agreed the measures in question were irrelevant to Gibraltar given it was ahead of the pack on this issue, the UK move could have negative consequences for the Rock. He attached to the letter, by way of example, copies of Spanish press reports wrongly claiming that the UK was forcing Gibraltar to be more transparent.

Mr Picardo said he had been forced to grant interviews to Spanish brodcasters to set the record straight. He warned too that the UK move could be used in international fora to counter the UK’s position that the 2006 Constitution granted “the maximum possible level of self-government short of independence” to Gibraltar.

“In summary, the constitutional aspects of your amendment have led and can lead to further, no doubt unintended, but nonetheless damaging, consequences for Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo wrote.

Mr Picardo said that on behalf of the people of Gibraltar and his government, he rejected “…any attempt to legislate for Gibraltar outside of the democratically elected Gibraltar Parliament.”

Article by the Gibraltar Chronicle