David Cameron cancels Gibraltar rally after murder of Labour MP Jo Cox
There was disappointment but also comprehension and sympathy in Gibraltar on Thursday, when what was to have been the highlight of the Stronger In campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, a rally at which prime minister David Cameron was due to speak, was cancelled at the last minute due to a vicious attack on Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire.
When news of the attack broke, all campaigning for the EU referendum was suspended in the UK. David Cameron was en route to Gibraltar and as soon as his plane landed he tweeted:“It’s right that all campaigning has stopped after the terrible attack on Jo Cox. I won’t go ahead with tonight’s rally in Gibraltar.”
The Stronger In group in Gibraltar, which had arranged Mr Cameron’s visit, announced that it too was suspending campaigning for 24 hours and that the rally would not take place.
The 41-year-old MP was shot and stabbed several times by a man who one witness alleges kept shouting “Britain First” during the attack, although this has not been confirmed. A 51-year-old man was arrested soon afterwards. Ms Cox, a mother of two, died from her injuries a few hours later and Mr Cameron paid tribute to her, saying “We’ve lost a great star. Jo was a great campaigning MP with huge compassion and a big heart. People are going to be very, very sad at what has happened. Dreadful news. My thoughts are with her family.”
The Gibraltar government and chief minister Fabian Picardo also expressed their deep sadness at Ms Cox’s death, and politicians from different parties in Spain expressed their shock at the news, and their sympathies.
Even though the rally did not go ahead, Mr Cameron’s visit meant a great deal to the people of Gibraltar, especially as it was a historic occasion: this was the first visit by a sitting prime minister since 1968. There is already massive support for a Remain vote on the Rock and, unusually, all political parties have set their differences aside and have been campaigning jointly for the UK - and therefore Gibraltar - to remain in the EU.
A poll published shortly before the rally was to be held showed that 94 per cent of voters in Gibraltar planned to vote to Remain, two per cent to Leave and four per cent were undecided.
Gibraltar’s economy relies heavily on the EU and access to the single market, and as the only British Overseas Territory to be part of the European Union it means that if the UK leaves, so does Gibraltar. Leaving the EU would mean that Gibraltar’s market would be reduced from 520 million people to 32,000, the population of the Rock.
Chief minister Fabian Picardo has said in the past that Brexit would be an existential threat to the local economy and that is why so many people are expected to vote to Remain.
However, although the effect of Brexit on the economy would be devastating, there is yet another fear for the people of Gibraltar.
Spain, which disputes sovereignty of the Rock, has intimated that if Britain votes to leave the EU the subject of Gibraltar would be on the table for discussion “the following day” and the acting foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has already suggested that Gibraltar should consider joint sovereignty because this would give it access to the single market. The Gibraltar government has made it clear that this would not be considered under any circumstances.
It is therefore possible that if Britain left the EU, Spain would block Gibraltar’s access to the single market and could even block the UK’s access to it in the future, as a way of putting pressure on for joint sovereignty.
Some people also fear that if the UK, and therefore Gibraltar, were no longer in the EU, Spain would be free to close the border if it so chose.
Spain’s acting PM, Mariano Rajoy, had openly expressed his annoyance at Cameron’s visit to Gibraltar. “Gibraltar is Spanish, Brexit or not,” he said earlier on Thursday.source surinenglish