A new framework of coexistence and cooperation involving Gibraltar, the UK and Spain is the “right response” to Brexit, Peter Montegriffo told the closing session of the University of Cádiz’s annual summer course on Gibraltar.
Mr Montegriffo said that in the same way as with the trilateral forum, such a framework must respect the different positions on sovereignty and self-determination.
“It can only be constructed based on democratic dialogue between all the parties involved,” he said.
But he said that Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manual García-Margallo, was seeking to use Brexit as an opportunity to advance Spain’s sovereignty aspirations, insisting on joint sovereignty as the price of continued access to the EU.
“The way I see it, Sr Margallo is not proposing this to advance the interests of the communities in this region, but for the sole purpose of applying pressure on the Gibraltarians to achieve a joint sovereignty that was already robustly rejected in 2002,” Mr Montegriffo said.
“The focus should be on ensuring the minimum negative impact on people, their jobs and commerce,” he added.
“In my view, there is not the most remote possibility of imposing an agreement on the people of Gibraltar to which they have not consented.”
Mr Montegriffo said there was a need to redefine how to manage relations between Gibraltar, UK and Spain in the light of the Brexit vote.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity,” he said.
“We need to establish a new framework for relations [which] will be outside the EU but inside the new arrangements negotiated between the UK and Europe.”
“In Gibraltar, La Linea, [in the Campo] and in the Junta de Andalucia, there is a desire and consensus to work in order face up to this new situation.”
He urged Sr García-Margallo, Algeciras mayor Jose Ignacio Landaluce and Spain’s foreign policy to reflect “very carefully” on the next steps.
“We are in a period that goes further than the management of a temporary moment in politics,” he said.
“Europe is undergoing convulsions of great difficulty.”
“All our prosperity and security is at play and at risk, not only in this area but much further afield.”
The seminar was told earlier this week that Spain’s acting government should have consulted the Spanish parliament before proposing joint sovereignty as a means for Gibraltar to retain its EU links.
Salvador de la Encina, the socialist MP for Cádiz, said such a proposal was too important to have been tabled without proper detailed analysis beforehand.
“We don’t think it’s reasonable, given that what we have is an acting government, that something as serious as joint sovereignty is proposed without first having a debate in parliament and hearing the views of the opposition,” he said.
“I hope we have an opportunity to discuss this proposal in parliament in August.”
The seminar had already heard from Gibraltarian speakers including Chief Minister Fabian Picardo that Gibraltar would never accept joint sovereignty and that only Gibraltarians could decide the future of the Rock.
During his address, Sr de la Encina urged “dialogue, understanding and cooperation” as the guiding principles for cross-border initiatives, which should focus on issues that impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens on both sides of the frontier fence.
He added that it was vital that any proposal from Spain’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs included investments for the Campo de Gibraltar, “and in particular for La Linea”.
That was a sentiment echoed by Juan Franco, the mayor of La Linea, who lamented that “instability” and “uncertainty” following the Brexit vote could lead to a loss of business and missed opportunities for both Gibraltar and La Linea.
Alejandro del Valle, a professor of international law and the coordinator of the summer course, echoed the views expressed by Sr de la Encina about the PP’s joint sovereignty proposal.
He said that even at a basic level, the acting Spanish government had provided no detail as to what exactly it was planning to offer.
“It’s a problem that something so important has been proposed by an acting government,” he said.
He also suggested that Spanish pressure over Gibraltar could hamper the wider Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.
The seminar was also addressed by local barrister Keith Azopardi, who said Brexit had been greeted with “deception, but not surprise” in Gibraltar.
He said Brexit did not alter the underlying issues in the relationship between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, though it opened the door for Spain to make “a generational error” and apply additional pressure on the Rock.
“We’ll probably face a hardening of posture in Madrid, but the people of Gibraltar have never shown the slightest interest in changing British sovereignty for Spanish,” he said.
“We don’t want another generation to grow up seeing Spain as a threat.”
Mr Azopardi, a former deputy Chief Minister, echoed other participants in highlighting “cooperation, inclusiveness and trilateralism” as the key to progress.
He urged “imaginative formulas” focused on dialogue “between nations, not states”.
Alfredo Vasquez, representing the Cross-Frontier Group, said the group was committed to fostering stronger links between communities on either side of the fence.
“We want a fluid border that is not used as a political tool and that is fir for the people who cross it daily,” Mr Vasquez said.