Photographer: Jose F. Raga/Getty Images/Photononstop RM

Cameron Irks Spain With Plan for Gibraltar Anti-Brexit Rally

  • Spanish premier says ‘Remain’ campaign should stick to U.K.
  • Trip looks strange, desperate: Royal Elcano Institute academic

Prime Minister David Cameron managed to upset the Spanish government with a planned trip to Gibraltar without even leaving London.

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Cameron had been due to hold a rally on the British territory later on Thursday as part of his campaign to convince voters to back staying in the European Union in next week’s referendum. The visit would have been the first by a serving British prime minister to the disputed enclave on the southern tip of Spain since 1968, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper.

“What’s clear is that Spain has always thought that Gibraltar is part of our national territory and not part of the U.K., whatever happens in the referendum,” Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an interview with RNE Radio. The Brexit campaign “should take place in the U.K. and not in Gibraltar,” he said.

One week before the June 23 ballot, Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne are vying to avert a so-called Brexit in the face of polls that suggest the “Leave” campaign has more momentum going into the final stretch. Gibraltar, with about 33,000 inhabitants, will be the first region to declare results after the voting.

Cameron canceled his trip after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was left in a critical condition after being attacked in her electoral district of West Yorkshire in the north of England. Cameron said on his Twitter account that it was right that all campaigning be stopped after the attack and that he wouldn’t go ahead with the planned rally.

Harold Wilson

Cameron had been due to address a rally in Casemates Square at 5.30 p.m. alongside Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, the Chronicle said. It recalled that the last time a serving British premier visited -- Harold Wilson almost a half century ago -- he held talks aboard Royal Navy ships with Ian Smith, the prime minister of what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Cameron’s decision to visit a territory with only 22,000 registered voters, the overwhelming majority of whom already back the “Remain” campaign, looked strange and “a bit of a desperate move,” said William Chislett, an analyst at the Royal Elcano Institute in Madrid.

‘Sacred Territory’

“For the very nationalist Brit -- the type who is probably going to vote for Brexit -- Gibraltar is sacred territory,” said Chislett by phone before the trip was canceled. “Perhaps Cameron wants to highlight what would happen there” if the U.K. were to vote to quit the bloc.

First ruled by Arabs, Gibraltar was conquered by the Spanish Catholic monarchs before being ceded to the British in 1713. In a March interview, Picardo, a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford University, said that Gibraltar sees the EU as the solution to the “perennial issue” that Spain raises about sovereignty.

Rajoy, who faces an election of his own three days after the Brexit referendum, on June 26, said that different Spanish ministries were working on a plan for what would happen if the “Leave” campaign wins. Brexit would be bad for the U.K. and for Europe, he said. He still wasn’t happy about Cameron’s visit to what Spain regards as its own back yard.

“They know what we think,” said Rajoy. “They know exactly what is the position of our country.”

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