Saturday 14 March 2009

UK FCO and Gibraltar: Responsive government?

Good governance, Government 2.0 and responsiveness may appear in politicians’ speeches, but how are things on the ground?

My two latest test cases concern the EU Treaty of Lisbon and the position of Gibraltar.



Way back, I sent an e-mail to the Gibraltar government’s office in London asking if the Lisbon Treaty needs approval by Gibraltar (as indicated by the Wikipedia article on the treaty) and on the plans to deal with the question.

After a while I received a response telling me that the question had been referred to someone in the Gibraltar government, who would get back to me with an answer as soon as possible.

A few more weeks went by, so I decided to make a new enquiry. The only suitable contact address I found on the net was the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Three more weeks passed. I wrote a reminder to the Bureau, and this time I received a reply wondering how I hadn’t received their answer of 27 February 2009. Anyway, they gave me the advice to contact the local Ministry of Justice (something beyond their capacity?).

Well, I e-mailed my query to the Ministry of Justice of Gibraltar, but this time I decided to publish my observations after only one and a half working days:



UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

On 18 February 2009 I sent the following question to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London to the e-mail address specifically mentioned for questions Gibraltarian:

Sir / Madam,

I present the contents of the EU Treaty of Lisbon on my blog and I have followed the ratification procedures. The geographical scope - Article 355(3) and (4) TFEU - includes the Aland Islands and Gibraltar (additionally Declaration 55), but the Wikipedia article on the Lisbon Treaty reports that these territories with self-rule are to decide on the applicability in their territories.

The Wikipedia information is correct as to Aland, but I have failed to find information to confirm or deny that Gibraltar would need to approve the Lisbon Treaty.

Could you kindly fill me in on that?

In case Gibraltar will make a decision, I would be grateful for exact information, such as possible proposals, acts or memos on the matter, as well as an estimate of when a decision might be taken.
I thank you in acvance for your time and trouble.


Ralf Grahn


Three weeks later, having received no answer I sent a reminder to the FCO at the same address, telling them that I would publish my findings.

Admittedly somewhat impatient by now, only one and a half working days later, this is it:

No reply.


I am still interested in the position of Gibraltar and its self-rule with regard to the Lisbon Treaty, so if someone is able to give me useful information, I am grateful.

But I am fascinated by the responsiveness of Her Majesty’s government (known for mislaying sensitive information which should be kept secret), but seemingly incapable of delivering timely answers to simple questions.

My special thanks go to the FCO and the government of Gibraltar for bringing this home.

The next time I hear some minister utter good governance, Government 2.0 or responsive, guess what my reaction is going to be?

I am going to check if we live on the same planet.

Ralf Grahn


  1. The UK government is the opposite of Sweden's open government - the Freedom of Information Act is riddled with exceptions.

    Since you've mentioned Yes, Minister before, I take it you've probably seen their take on the 30 years rule?

  2. Eurocentric,

    The question if public legislation is needed can hardly be a state secret - even in Merry Old England or its territories.

    It is a question of attitude, sadly rather lacking in helpfulness.

    The series - Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister - are so old, and I suppose about 15 years have passed since I read the books, so I don't remember the 30 years rule.

    I will have to look for it.

  3. Sorry about that, I should have made it clearer that I was talking about the attitude.

  4. I think Gibraltar have to pass an act to give effect to EU treaties within its territory. Here's an example. It's essentially a technical requirement. The Isle of Mann and the Channel Islands will (or have already) passed such legislation, even though only a very limited amount of EU rules apply there.

    Under the UK's dualist model Parliament incorporates treaties into domestic law while the Government ratifies (ie formally in Rome). The catch is that while the UK's ratification in Rome applies to both the UK and Gibraltar, the UK Parliament only incorporates the treaty into the law of the (metropolitan) United Kingdom and not Gibraltar. So the latter's parliament has to pass its own legislation.

    In theory the UK could override Gibraltar's parliament and enact legislation directly, but this is rare if it's ever happened at all.

  5. Michael,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I later received an answer from the Minister of Justice of Gibraltar and I posted the answer: No ratification, but nothing conclusive said about local legislation (if I remember correctly).

    By the way, the FCO has not replied yet.


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