Gibraltar will never barter its sovereignty in exchange for EU access after Brexit, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the UN Fourth Committee yesterday, rebutting a formal offer of “co-sovereignty” from Spain.
He made the statement just minutes after Spain’s ambassador to the UN, Román Oyarzun Marchesi, outlined Spain’s proposal for joint sovereignty to a packed committee room in the UN headquarters in New York.
Sr Oyarzun said Brexit would lead to “a radical shift” in Gibraltar’s relations with Spain, but also a “problem of the first order” for the Rock’s economy and that of the Campo de Gibraltar.
He said Spain’s joint sovereignty proposal represented “a solution” to Brexit and “a good deal” for Gibraltar and the Campo.
The Spanish diplomat received an immediate and robust response from the Chief Minister, who made clear Gibraltar’s sovereignty was not up for discussion.
Mr Picardo reminded the committee that 98% of Gibraltarians had rejected joint sovereignty in 2002 and that this would never change.
He added that Spain would “…never get its hands on our Rock, whether the claim is laced with threats or garnished with benefits.”
Mr Picardo told the meeting that the economic benefits Spain said could flow from joint sovereignty “…could flow today if Spain simply respected our choice not to be Spanish.”
The Chief Minister also said the fact that Spain had ceded the Rock in perpetuity over 300 years ago presented it with “an insurmountable legal obstacle” in its sovereignty aspirations.
Mr Picardo highlighted the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the GFA/FIFA case, the first time an international court had considered Spain’s territorial sovereignty claims.
The court dismissed legal arguments that Gibraltar was a disputed territory that should therefore be barred from joining FIFA.
“This seminal decision serves as a reminder that, for as long as the international community continues to value the stability of internationally recognised boundaries, Spain’s expansionist, territorial claim is doomed to fail,” Mr Picardo said.
Yesterday’s session in New York unfolded against the backdrop of the UK’s forthcoming withdrawal from the EU, which Spain has sought to link to its sovereignty case.
In a statement at the start of the meeting, Sr Oyarzun set out his government’s view that Brexit should strengthen the UN’s resolve to push for a bilateral agreement between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar.
The position presented yesterday at the UN reflected the content of a letter Spain sent to EU members last week outlining a joint sovereignty proposal which, according to the acting Spanish Government, would allow Gibraltar to retain access to the EU.
“We would like to reach an agreement with the United Kingdom on a joint sovereignty system which would enable Gibraltar to stay in the EU, and based on the recognition of as broad a self-government as possible – which is compatible with Spain’s constitutional system – and on an advantageous personal status for Gibraltarians, which could include dual nationality,” Sr Oyarzun told the meeting.
Sr Oyarzun, who said Spain would “never relinquish its just claim”, urged Gibraltar to study the Spanish offer and added: “It is not a question of imposing anything on anyone.”
The Spanish proposal presented yesterday hinged on four core issues, including dual British/Spanish nationality for residents of Gibraltar; maintaining Gibraltar’s “self-governing institutions” within a system of autonomy compatible with the Spanish constitution; maintaining Gibraltar’s tax regime “insofar as it is compatible with EU law”; and dismantling “the fence”, meaning the border.
Sr Oyarzun added that Spain and the UK would jointly exercise authority over defence matters, foreign relations, control of external borders, immigration and asylum.
He said Spain did not want to impose the terms of any “co-sovereignty” agreement and that this was “simply a starting point for negotiations”.
“I would also like to highlight that Spain has no intention of interfering with Gibraltar’s lifestyle, customs or traditions,” the ambassador said.
“We would respect them and promote them, especially given that the Rock shares many cultural traits with its neighbour, Andalusia.”
‘NO WAY JOSE’
The Spanish statement received an immediate rebuttal from the Chief Minister, who said there was no prospect of any joint sovereignty deal against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
He reminded the committee that Gibraltarians had voted by 96% to remain in the EU and that Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, had adopted “a particularly retrograde” stance toward Gibraltar.
“He has said that he sees the recent Brexit vote in the UK as a rare opportunity to advance the Spanish territorial claim,” Mr Picardo told the committee.
“Sr José Manuel García-Margallo has insisted that he believes the Gibraltarians can be blackmailed into accepting Spanish sovereignty, in return for preserving Gibraltar’s links with the EU.”
“He has written to EU foreign ministers making his medieval case for the transfer of our sovereignty over our heads.”
Mr Picardo said that while Sr Oyarzun had listed “the carrots” of Spain’s proposal, Gibraltar was daily bombarded with threats as to what would happen if it did not sign up to the offer.
The Chief Minister acknowledged that Gibraltar would like to retain some aspects of its relationship with the EU, even as the UK negotiates the terms of its exit.
But he added: “We are not prepared to give up our sovereignty in order to do so.”
Gibraltar’s response to Spain’s sovereignty claim was “simple and straightforward”, he added, and could be summed up in one phrase: “No way Jose.”
In dismissing Spain’s bid to share sovereignty over Gibraltar, Mr Picardo reaffirmed Gibraltar and the UK’s commitment to trilateral dialogue for the good of communities on both sides of the border.
“What the United Kingdom and Gibraltar constructively propose is that we immediately re-start talks under the Trilateral Forum for Dialogue that superseded, that is to say replaced, the Brussels Process,” he said.
“In that Forum, which this Committee welcomed the creation of, we can address all matters of genuine mutual concern that are not related to sovereignty.”
And he stressed that Gibraltarians would never barter their sovereignty or their right to self determination, not matter how lucrative an offer might appear at first blush.
“I have no doubt that a call for negotiations may appear to the committee to be benign and reasonable on its face, but this one is not,” he said.
“The negotiations Spain proposes are negotiations in which the Gibraltarians are excluded.”
“These are negotiations and where the only outcome that is acceptable to Spain is the Spanish annexation of Gibraltar, contrary to the wishes of every Gibraltarians.”
“Even Spanish proposals of co-sovereignty are contingent on full sovereignty eventually reverting to Spain.”
In concluding, Mr Picardo once again urged the UN to send a fact-finding mission to Gibraltar, asking the Fourth Committee to consider why it was that Spain resisted such a move.
“It is in fact incredible – and actually happening before you today – that a modern European nation like Spain would appear to relish the prospect of taking over our country against our will,” he said.
“This is a blatant attempt to use the decolonisation process of the United Nations to turn Gibraltar into a new Spanish colony by redrawing the map of modern Europe in front of your eyes, and using Brexit as the lubricant for it to happen.”
“This is not conducive to positive and constructive neighbourly relations.”
“Nor is it the proper way of fostering order and respect for established international frontiers amongst the international community of nations.”
The Spanish position on Gibraltar in the wake of the Brexit vote will make it difficult for the UK and Spain to agree their traditional annual consensus decision before the Fourth Committee.
Each year the two governments – Britain in close contact with Gibraltar – negotiate an agreed position that updates the UN on latest developments and sets out areas of agreement and disagreement in terms acceptable to both.
But this year, despite efforts to reach consensus, a shared position will prove elusive.
Spain is intent on pushing for bilateral talks and joint sovereignty, while Britain remains steadfast in its double-lock commitment that it will never change or discuss Gibraltar’s sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
As this edition went to press last night, the Fourth Committee was still in session and a senior British Government diplomat was expected to exercise a right of reply to Spain.