The Government has agreed to recognise the Cornish as a “national minority”.
Ministers are to include the Duchy in their submission to update a European convention designed to protect diversity.
The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was adopted by the UK government sixteen years ago.
While ethnic minority communities and the Scots, Irish and Welsh were included, the Cornish were not awarded the status.
Advocates of the move have argued recognition as a “national minority” would help preserve Cornwall’s culture and identity for future generations. They contended that since Cornwall is a Celtic nation it should be afforded a similar status to Wales and Scotland.
Ahead of a visit to Cornwall today, Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 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.”
Communities Minister Stephen Williams said: “This is a great day for the people of Cornwall who have long campaigned for the distinctiveness and identity of the Cornish people to be recognised officially.
“The Cornish and Welsh are the oldest peoples on this island and as a proud Welshman I look forward to seeing St Piran’s Flag flying with extra Celtic pride on March 5 next year.”
Some 84,000 people declared themselves Cornish in the 2011 Census and dual language street signs are increasingly common.
Campaign groups, MPs and the Council of Europe’s own advocacy committee had all made representations to include Cornwall in the framework. The committee reported receiving “substantial information from (the Cornish) as to their Celtic identity, specific history, distinct language and culture”.
Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, who called for the status to be bestowed on Cornwall in the Commons last year, said: “Over the last four years, I have been pressing the Government to include the Cornish as a recognised minority status.
“After countless meetings, questions and debates, today’s announcement is welcome news for Cornwall. Our unique culture and history has been under-recognised for too long. Now, the Cornish will have the same status as our Celtic cousins and this will help us grow and remember our important heritage.”
The framework calls for respect to “ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority”.
In March, it was announced the Cornish Language Partnership was to get £120,000 of government funding to help “keep the Cornish language alive”.
The Government today recognises the Cornish people as distinct from communities in other regions of the UK. Living Cornwall Editor Simon Parker asks what – if anything – it will mean for Cornwall.
When the late, great David Penhaligon told Parliament “you need more in an economy than just tourism, ice-cream and deck chairs” he could easily have added the word “recognition”.
The Liberal MP, unlike some of today’s Parliamentarians, was genuinely concerned about the welfare of his Truro constituents and about Cornwall as a whole.
And while Danny Alexander’s announcement that the Government will officially “recognise” the Cornish people as a distinct ethnic group is to be broadly welcomed, it is difficult to believe he is concerned about anything other than votes.
With the European elections a few weeks away, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats running scared of a UKIP drubbing at the polls, even the most trusting Cornish man or woman will greet such news with a degree of scepticism.
In strictly political terms, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury says the new classification will give the Cornish similar status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.
But does a group of people, linked by a shared history, need to be given permission by some distant government department before it declares itself distinctive?
The Cornish don’t need to be told about their ethnic status any more than the Scots, Welsh or indeed any other people. It is in their DNA, their traditions, their attitude.
It was always there, of course, and in recent years – as a reaction to growing global homogeneity – a movement to shout about such distinctiveness has flourished. But as dialect expert Ken Phillipps once said: “We don’t need to go to Twickenham and wave a flag to know we’re Cornish.”
Danny Alexander’s crumbs – even to a people whose achievements have given so much to the world – are welcome. We would all, however, be far more interested to hear what official recognition might mean for Cornwall’s future.
So thanks, Danny, we’ll add your offer of government recognition to the long-held worldwide acceptance of Cornish distinctiveness. But if you and your Cabinet colleagues really want to help the Cornish, take a look at the unemployment figures, the state of the roads, the cuts to essential services. Attending to some of the problems facing the UK’s poorest region would be real “recognition” – rather than an election-driven rearrangement of David Penhaligon’s deck chairs.