A UK Government Brexit minister will hear Gibraltar’s views first-hand during an official visit to the Rock today.
Robin Walker, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, arrived overland from Spain yesterday evening after his flight was diverted to Málaga because of bad weather.
He is the first minister from the UK Government’s new Brexit department to visit Gibraltar, but is no stranger to the issues facing this community.
Mr Walker is the lead UK minister dealing with Gibraltar and chairs the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Exit between the UK and Gibraltar governments.
His visit will be seen as a sign of the UK Government’s commitment to ensuring Gibraltar’s views are properly represented in the Brexit process.
It comes just two days after the British Parliament approved the UK Government’s Brexit Bill, with Prime Minister Theresa May expected to trigger Article 50 within days and start the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The minister’s presence here also coincides with the arrival in Gibraltar today of the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean, which is heading back to Britain after deployment in the Middle East.
Last night Mr Walker was hosted by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo at a dinner at No.6 Convent Place – they were served a healthy menu of ceviche and mango starter, sea bream for main course and fruit for dessert – ahead of a full schedule of meetings today.
This morning the UK minister, who spent the night at The Convent, will walk across Convent Place to No. 6 for a meeting with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, who is responsible for the Gibraltar Government’s Brexit-related work.
“This will be a continuation of the work that is being carried out formally in the Joint Ministerial Committee,” No. 6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“The Government believes it is important that Mr Walker obtains a first-hand impression of Gibraltar, including those areas which are likely to feature in the discussions, and has also facilitated for Mr Walker to hear the views of a wide cross-section of Gibraltar’s community.”
At lunchtime Mr Walker will meet a cross-section of the community at a small reception in the Garrison Library, where both he and the Chief Minister are expected to address guests. He is scheduled to leave later this evening.
Mr Walker was appointed to his current post in July, 2016, just after the referendum on EU membership.
Since then he has made a number of public statements on Brexit and Gibraltar, including an address to the Gibraltar Day in London reception at the Gherkin last year.
More recently, he told the House of Lords inquiry on Gibraltar that the UK would highlight to Spain the “pragmatic benefits” of ensuring frontier fluidity for communities on both sides of the border.
“But we also have to be clear that a discussion about sovereignty simply is not on the table here,” he said at the time.
“That’s something that I think the EU institutions will understand and respect, and the other EU states will understand and respect.”
“It’s very important that the UK engages positively with Spain bilaterally, that we engage positively across the EU, but we have to make clear in advance that a discussion about sovereignty simply isn’t on the cards.”
Pic by Johnny Bugeja