Cameron suspends anti-Brexit campaign in Gibraltar after MP attack

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had complained about his British counterpart’s planned involvement in contested overseas territory

David Cameron in London on Wednesday.
David Cameron in London on Wednesday.FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA (EFE)

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will not be taking part in an anti-Brexit rally in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar after a Labour member of parliament was attacked in the street in a city close to Leeds, England on Thursday.

The Conservative politician was scheduled to travel to Gibraltar to campaign in favor of remaining within the European Union, just one week ahead of Britain’s pivotal referendum on UK’s permanence in the union.

It would mark the first visit to The Rock by a serving prime minister of Britain since 1968.

However, the plans were put on hold after Labour MP Jo Cox suffered a horrific attack in the street in the city of Birstall, where she was also campaigning in favor of the UK staying in the EU. The 41-year-old former aid worker was shot and stabbed by a man on the street who is reported to have shouted “Britain first” during the attack.

The “Gibraltar Stronger In” campaign had announced that Cameron was to participate in a public event at 5pm alongside Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, the leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. The British PM was also expected to hold a press conference and to be interviewed by a local television station.

But in line with other politicians and campaigners, both for and against Brexit, these events have been put on hold.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent a tweet on Thursday afternoon condemning the attack.

“I condemn the terrible assault suffered by British MP Jo Cox. Violence has no room in democracy. I wish her a speedy recovery. MR”

Spanish displeasure

The Spanish government expressed its displeasure on Wednesday, shortly after Cameron’s visit was confirmed. Sources within the acting Popular Party (PP) administration said that it was informed by Cameron’s team that the British prime minister would be in Gibraltar for two hours.

“The government does not like Mr Cameron going to Gibraltar,” said Spanish acting PM Mariano Rajoy in a radio interview. “What’s being debated is whether the UK remains in the EU or leaves the EU, and the campaign for that should be conducted in the UK, not in Gibraltar.”

A rerouted flight

On May 11, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond paid a visit of his own to the Rock, which Spain described as “offensive.” Hammond told Gibraltarians that London will not begin any negotiations with Madrid over the Rock’s sovereignty status without approval from Gibraltar.

The official aircraft that took the foreign secretary to the Rock had to take a detour through Portuguese airspace, as it was denied access over Spanish territory. Spanish diplomatic sources said this is standard procedure for any state flight going to or returning from Gibraltar.

Rajoy added that regardless of whether Brexit wins or loses, “Spain continues to think that Gibraltar is part of its own national territory, not Britain’s.”

But Fabian Picardo called the visit “historic.”

“It demonstrates the commitment to Gibraltar that Mr Cameron has displayed since we were first elected,” the Chief Minister told the Gibraltar Chronicle.

Gibraltarians are expected to vote massively in favor of remaining within the EU. Picardo has described the referendum as “a political meteorite aimed at Gibraltar,” and Brexit as potentially “disastrous” for the local economy.

Nearly 23,000 out of the 32,000 residents are being asked to vote on June 23, even though they do not vote in Britain’s general elections. Gibraltar is the only overseas territory that joined the European Economic Union in 1973 along with the UK, and the only overseas territory with the right to vote on Brexit.

Spain’s acting justice minister, Rafael Catalá, has admitted that a Brexit “would open up a new scenario” of redefined European borders, and that this fact would force Spain to “completely reconsider” its relationship with Gibraltar.

English version by Susana Urra and Simon Hunter.

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