Raise the flag of St Piran. A millennium after they were subsumed into the English state and 15 years since efforts began to have them formally declared a distinct people, the Cornish are to be recognised as a national minority.
The Government will announce on Thursday that the Cornish are joining the Scots, Welsh and Irish as official members of the UK’s Celtic minorities. The decision is a victory for campaigners who have long insisted that, beyond its image as the motherland of the pasty and clotted cream, Cornwall has a distinct language and culture worthy of formal recognition.
The status of a national minority group, made under a European convention to protect them, means that the Cornish now have the same rights and protections as the more established members of Britain’s Celtic fringe.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, will make the announcement in Bodmin today. He said: “Cornish people have a proud history and a distinct identity. I am delighted that we have been able to officially recognise this and afford the Cornish people the same status as other minorities in the UK.”
The ruling is the culmination of a long battle to assert a distinct Cornish identity which saw 84,000 people declare themselves “Cornish” in the 2011 Census following a campaign for the designation to be added to the form. A further 41 per cent of pupils in Cornwall’s schools described themselves as Cornish in a 2011 school survey – up from 34 per cent two years earlier.
The Cornish language, which until 2010 was classified as extinct by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is also enjoying a robust revival, with 557 people claiming the Celtic dialect as their main language. Teaching of Cornish has received government funding Last month, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, pledged a further £120,000 to promote and develop the language with such measures as an internet-based radio station.
The first Cornish language crèche opened in 2010 and dual-language street signs are now common throughout the county. Its three Liberal Democrat MPs swore their oath in Cornish when elected to Parliament in 2010.
Campaigners said they were delighted by the move, which comes after the submission of two formal reports to Westminster seeking minority status and years of lobbying.
Dick Cole, leader of the Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow, which campaigns for a separate national assembly, told The Independent: “We are absolutely elated. The fact that Cornish culture, language and identity is now formally a national minority on a par with the Welsh, Scots and Irish is fantastic. We shall savour the moment.”
The Communities Minister, Stephen Williams, added: “This is a great day for the people of Cornwall.”