|In the 1950s the idea of Malta being integrated with the UK was a serious possibility, supported by HMG. Like Gibraltar, Malta was of strategic military importance to the UK and was heavily dependent economically on the Ministry of Defence. The Labour government of Dom Mintoff proposed integration with the UK, albeit with a high degree of autonomy, in a Round-Table Conference in London in 1955:||
Proposals of the Government of Malta
The underlying principle of the Malta Labour Government's proposals for closer association with Great Britain on which negotiations will be conducted with Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, is a complete equality of status between the two peoples. The proposals embody the following basic features:
I. - CONSTITUTIONAL
1. Malta would have representation with full voting powers in the Parliament at Westminster, elected in the same way as Members in the United Kingdom.
2. The Parliament at Westminster would have exclusive authority in matters of defence and foreign affairs, and at an appropriate future date, direct taxation.
3. The powers of the Maltese Parliament would be extended and would embrace all matters other than those mentioned in paragraph 2 above. The Maltese Parliament would be responsible for legislation in all internal matters including, in particular, those affecting the position of the Church in these Islands, education, marriage and family life, always acknowledging the principle of religious toleration as embodied in the Declaration of Rights of 1802 and in recent Constitutions. This would mean that the new constitutional relationship would leave intact the power of the people of Malta to protect their own religion and their own Ecclesiastical establishment. Her Majesty's Government would confirm the assurances they have already given in regard to religious matters,
4. The present dyarchical system of Government in Malta would be abolished and there would be a representative of Her Majesty's Government in Malta to carry out the policy of that Government in regard to defence and foreign affairs, and to consult and collaborate with the Maltese Government in matters of joint concern.
II - ECONOMIC
Under the new constitutional relationship between the two peoples, agreements covering a number of years for financial and other assistance would be sought with Her Majesty's Government to support a development plan the objective of which would be equivalence of standards with Great Britain:-
a) by the gradual raising of the standard of living of the people of these Island and in particular of their social services;
(b) by maintaining employment, the increase of opportunities outside Service establishments and the gradual raising of wages;
(c) by raising direct taxation as the national income and the taxable capacity of the people increase.
III - CONSULTATIVE
Machinery for close consultation and collaboration between the two Governments would be established on the following lines:
(a) A Defence Council in Malta, of which the Maltese Prime Minister would be a member. The Council would be used to inform the Maltese Government of developments in defence and foreign affairs and for the discussion of these matters in so far as they affect Malta;
(b) A committee in Malta, composed of representatives of the Maltese Government and Her Majesty's Government, for the consideration of economic and financial matters of common concern;
(c) A Joint Standing Ministerial Committee in London, to consider at the highest level any issue of particular importance or difficulty affecting Malta. This Committee would meet regularly to provide a means of consultation and an exchange of information between the two Governments.
In February 1956, the proposals were put to a referendum, in which 75 per cent voted 'Yes'. However, owing to a boycott called for by the opposition parties (who felt that the proposals had been forced through) and the Roman Catholic Church (which saw its status threatened), only 60 per cent of the electorate came out to vote. There were reservations in Westminster that the Maltese MPs would be able to hold the balance of power in the House of Commons. In 1957, the closure of British naval docks had a devastating effect on the local economy (a quarter of the workforce was employed in defence related activities.) This effectively killed off the integrationist cause, and Mintoff's Labour Party espoused independence. Malta gained independence in 1964, becoming a republic within the Commonwealth a decade later.
Lessons for Gibraltar
Some people may argue, as in the case of Malta, that the effective withdrawal of the British military from Gibraltar, and the diversification of its economy, means that the rationale for integration with the UK has disappeared. The policy of successive British governments has been to steer the UK's colonies towards independence, or in the case of the remaining ones, now called 'Overseas Territories', to self-government. Westminster, consequently, has never really played a role in their governance, which is why these territories, like the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, have never had representation in the House of Commons.
However, if Gibraltar were to be integrated with the UK, then it would remain as economically self-sufficient and politically autonomous as it is now. Unlike Malta, UK economic assistance would be neither expected or required. Defence and foreign policy would remain the responsibility of HMG, although Gibraltar would become the responsibility of the Home Office, rather than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as at present.