Spain would seek talks on Gibraltar “the very next day” after a British withdrawal from the European Union, the country’s caretaker Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, said yesterday.
His comments were immediately highlighted by the Gibraltar Government, which said they illustrated the dangers of a Brexit for Gibraltar.
The Spanish minister was speaking on a breakfast show on Spain’s Radio Nacional and said that, while hoped the UK would remain in the EU, its withdrawal would represent “a golden opportunity” for Spain to become the United States’ “privileged partner” in Europe.
“I have defended the UK position in parliament and I have said that if, God forbid, the UK leaves, then Europe – or at least the 19 countries that share a currency – has to take a giant leap toward federalisation, toward the United States of Europe, so that the UK’s exit is not interpreted as the European project starting to melt,” he said.
“It’s true that this gives us an opportunity to have an even more important role than the one we already have with the United States, and don’t forget about one other thing: we’ll be talking about Gibraltar the very next day.”
The Gibraltar Government said Sr García-Margallo’s comments would take no one here by surprise and were “perfectly consistent” with the “manner and form” that had characterised his tenure at the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
“This is exactly the type of attitude that we have come to expect from Sr García-Margallo and it no doubt pervades so many others of his mindset,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“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.”
In a statement, No 6 Convent Place added that Sr García-Margallo’s comments were also consistent with the analysis contained in a report published by the British Government earlier this week.
The document warned that there was “no certainty” the border would remain open in the event of a Brexit.
No 6 Convent Place also recalled that in 2013, Sr García-Margallo had floated the idea of a frontier toll on motorists driving into Gibraltar but that this was scuttled by the European Commission, which said it would breach EU law.
The safest option for Gibraltar was to remain within the EU, it added.
This is not the first time that Sr García-Margallo has openly linked the prospect of a Brexit to Spain’s claim over Gibraltar.
Speaking on national radio last Mat, the Spanish minister said it would be “unimaginable” for Gibraltar to be left outside the EU.
But if the Rock wants to remain in the bloc in the event of a ‘Brexit’, he added, “…we will have to go down memory lane and dust off that joint sovereignty formula”.
“We are on the eve of relatively important developments on Gibraltar,” he said.
The comments last year drew an immediate and tough rebuttal from the Gibraltar Government.
“For the avoidance of doubt, there is no prospect whatsoever, even if we were faced with a full UK exit from the European Union, that Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians would be prepared to compromise on sovereignty,” said deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia at the time.