Gibraltar could remain in the European Union in the event of Brexit by agreeing to “transitional” joint sovereignty between Spain and the UK, Spain’s acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said in an interview on Sunday.
His comments will be condemned in Gibraltar and seen as further evidence that Spain’s Partido Popular would seek to capitalise on a UK withdrawal from the EU by trying to advance its sovereignty claim over the Rock.
Sr García-Margallo, who has raised the prospect of joint sovereignty in the past, told La Razón newspaper that the Rock’s concerns about the possible impact of Brexit were “artificial”.
In the event of Britain leaving Europe, Gibraltar “…would not have access to the internal market or any of the advantages that this represents,” he said.
“Its economy would not be able to continue as it does at the moment, that is evident.”
“But if [Brexit] does happen, Gibraltarians should not be worried.”
“If they want to carry on being part of the EU, then it is relatively simple,” he added. “Do what we were about to do in 2002.”
“In other words, establish joint sovereignty between Spain and the United Kingdom for a transitional period, reserving [Gibraltar’s] peculiar status.”
“They would have the best of both worlds, two flags and access to the European Union.”
Last week, the Gibraltar Government warned that Sr García-Margallo was “waiting to pounce” on Gibraltar if Britain voted to leave the EU.
The Gibraltar Government and the Opposition are adamant that remaining within the EU is the best option for Gibraltar, and have called on the UK government to guard against any attempts by Spain to exploit the EU referendum.
The interview in La Razón comes just days after Sr García-Margallo said Spain would raise the subject of Gibraltar “the very next day” after Brexit, in comments that drew an immediate reaction from No 6 Convent Place.
“This is exactly the type of attitude that we have come to expect from Sr Margallo and it no doubt pervades so many others of his mindset,” Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said at the time.
“It usefully sets out the danger that those who choose Brexit potentially create for Gibraltar if there is also a Partido Popular government in Spain in the future.”
“This is as vivid an illustration as possible of that.”
When Sr García-Margallo first linked Brexit and joint sovereignty last year, Dr Joseph Garcia, the deputy Chief Minister, said Spain should be clear that, even if the UK left Europe, there was no prospect of any concession on sovereignty.
“The identity of Gibraltarians and their British sovereignty are not a currency to be negotiated with, nor would we allow ourselves to be blackmailed,” he said at the time.