Andy McSmith's Diary: It’s time to stop invoking old treaties and let Gibraltar decide for itself


“Spain does not seem to be aware of the Treaty of Utrecht,” the Labour MP Jim Dobbin claimed, introducing a “debate” on Spain and Gibraltar in the Commons. I put “debate” in quotation marks, because the word implies a contest between different points of view. In the UK, politicians never actually debate Gibraltar: they assert that it is ours and that Spain should leave off. That message was repeated when the Spanish ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office.

But I suspect that the Spanish are well aware of the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in spring 1713. Though that treaty legitimised the British military occupation of Gibraltar, it clearly did not say the people living on the Rock had the right to decide who should govern them. It said that should Britain ever decide “to alienate therefrom the propriety of the said town of Gibraltar”, sovereignty would revert to Spain.

It would make more sense if British politicians stopped referring to the Treaty of Utrecht – which by the way also granted UK merchants the right to sell African slaves to Spain’s overseas territories – and stuck to the modern principle that it is for the people of Gibraltar to determine how they wish to be governed.

Vaz fails khat scan

The most surprising revelation to come out of the Commons today was from the mouth of the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, who was born and spent his early childhood in Yemen. Being from Yemen, he had chewed the drug khat, he revealed.

Khat is a popular stimulant in parts of Africa and the Middle East, which until recently was legally imported and sold in the UK. It was banned by the Home Office earlier this year.

The effect of chewing khat is said to be similar to but less intense than snorting cocaine, though Keith Vaz claimed “it had no effect on me” – but then, not much does.

No selfies for Fallon

Somebody has had the wit to send a delightful Freedom of Information request to the Department of Energy. It asked for information on “the number of times Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Energy, has written official ministerial correspondence to Michael Fallon, minister in the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills” and “the number of times Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Energy, has received official ministerial correspondence from Michael Fallon, minister in the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills” and “a breakdown of the topics covered in this correspondence”.

The answer is that Michael Fallon has not written any official letters to himself. What a disappointment.

Pet hate or xenophobia?

Alex Perkins, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Canterbury and an obsessive Twitter user, is in trouble over the way he responded to news that Americans spend $330m (£205m) a year on spooky costumes for their pets. “And I thought I couldn’t hate them more,” he wrote. He has since claimed that when he wrote “them” he meant pets’ costumes, but a local woman who is half-American interpreted the tweet as meaning that he hates Americans. She has lodged a complaint with Canterbury Council’s chief executives.

My kingdom for a hearse

The absurd argument about where the bones of Richard III are to be interred is costing money. The Government spent £28,590 on legal fees up to the end of September, with costs still piling up, a written note in Hansard reveals.

A group of the ex-king’s descendants, who have formed a registered company called the Plantagenet Alliance, think he should be buried in York, and have gone to law to challenge the Government’s decision to leave it to Leicester University, who dug up his body.

This case has so annoyed the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, that he is looking into ways to prevent lawyers in future from making money out of what he calls “unmeritorious judicial reviews”.