The Gibraltar Government and the British Government “are totally joined up” as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50 and take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has said.
Britain has made it “explicitly clear” that Gibraltar is part of the UK’s Brexit negotiation, he said, adding that EU countries understood why Gibraltarians wanted to remain British and would not trade their sovereignty in exchange for EU access despite having voted overwhelmingly to Remain.
Mr Picardo was speaking as speculation mounted that Mrs May was poised to trigger Article 50, perhaps as early as this week but certainly by the end of the month.
In an interview with the Chronicle, Mr Picardo said that while the border remained the most serious single issue arising from Brexit, he was confident that fluidity could and would be maintained.
He was also confident that the UK, which has already committed to ensure Gibraltar has continued access to UK markets, would also include the Rock in future trade deals with countries around the globe.
The Chief Minister said Gibraltar’s common law system, coupled to its high regulatory standards and solid global reputation in key sectors such as gaming, would stand it in good stead to tap new opportunities in the future.
Mr Picardo said his government had worked very closely with the UK Government over the past nine months to ensure Gibraltar’s position was well understood.
The commitments obtained from the UK Government were “hard fought” in the sense that Gibraltar had to set out its needs clearly and in detail, while persuading British ministers and officials on factors essential to the Rock’s future.
“But we were, I must tell you, working with people in the UK Government, colleagues, who were as concerned as we were about the stability of the Gibraltar economy going forward and who were prepared to listen and understand,” Mr Picardo said.
He also rejected the suggestion that Gibraltar might be used as a bargaining chip in a bilateral deal between the UK and Spain.
“I have no reason, in all the time I’ve been in government, to doubt Theresa May,” he told the Chronicle.
“The work I did with her in the Home Office [before she became Prime Minister] showed she understood the issue of Gibraltar and was prepared to stand up for Gibraltar at the 11th hour when Spain raised the issue at the last moment.”
“Given the choice of who to believe, the position of the United Kingdom is explicitly clear: Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom’s negotiation, which is a multilateral negotiation with the remaining 27 and the three institutions of the European Union, and Spain is one of them.”
Mr Picardo said Gibraltar and the UK had analysed in great detail how best to defend Gibraltar’s interests once the negotiations get under way.
He would not be drawn on the detail of those discussions, instead following the lead set by the UK Government which is closely guarding its negotiating position ahead of talks with the EU.
But he said Gibraltar’s future had been the subject of “very in-depth tactical and strategic consideration” over the past months.
Neither would he speculate on what position Spain might take in the discussions, choosing instead to use a phrase employed by Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis when asked last week about the UK and Gibraltar: “Let’s see what they put on the table.”
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to crystal ball gaze about what position Spain may take,” Mr Picardo said.
“We know the position that Spain has traditionally taken and I’m not going to foolishly expect that they’re going to take a different position today.”
“But there is a lot of joint-up thinking between the Government of Gibraltar and the UK Government as to what positions we will counter with.”
“I think you must take something from this, and that is that I think I am probably the first Chief Minister that has the benefit of being able to tell you that the UK Government and the Gibraltar Government are working together on those reactions,” he added.
“That’s the position today. I can’t reassure that the Government of Gibraltar and the Government of the United Kingdom will take the same attitude at one minute to midnight the day the two years [of Brexit negotiations] are almost up.”
“But at least I’m able to tell you that we’re going into this totally joined up and knowing how we’re going to react together.”
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