Sharing Gibraltar’s sovereignty with Spain would “strip us of who we are”, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday as he insisted it was “only fair, proper and right” that any future trade deal between the EU and the UK also applied to the Rock.
Mr Picardo was speaking on the BBC’s flagship Andrew Marr Show two days after the EU singled out Gibraltar in its draft negotiating guidelines and said any move to include Gibraltar in a future deal must have prior agreement from Spain.
Amid a media frenzy over Gibraltar, Mr Picardo spoke to Prime Minister Theresa May who offered reassurance to Gibraltarians that the UK remains “steadfastly committed” to the Rock.
“The Prime Minister said we remain absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit and will continue to involve them fully in the process,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon vowed to protect Gibraltar “all the way” during the Brexit process, while former Tory leader Lord Howard went as far as suggesting Mrs May could even be prepared to go to war to defend the Rock.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also stepped up to insist the UK’s policy remained “fixed and firm”.
“Gibraltar is not for sale,” he told the Sunday Telegraph. “Gibraltar cannot be traded. Gibraltar will not be bargained away.”
Mr Johnson praised Gibraltar’s “vibrant business centre” and said its the Rock remained a “key Nato asset” because it can take nuclear submarines.
“The UK Government can be counted on to stick up for those interests – for instance in insurance and maritime services – which create jobs not just in Gibraltar but in the wider region of southern Spain,” said.
“So let us go into these discussions with goodwill and optimism and get a deal that is good for the UK, good for Spain, and good for the people of Gibraltar.”
The developments in the UK came as Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis confirmed Spain had spent several weeks lobbying to ensure its position on Gibraltar was included in the EU’s draft guidelines for the Brexit negotiation.
“I don’t believe in megaphone diplomacy, but we have spoken with our partners and the institutions in recent weeks and we have made the Spanish position clear: when the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the EU partner is Spain, and when it comes to Gibraltar, the EU is thus obliged to take Spain’s side,” he said in an interview with El Pais.
But Sr Dastis also sought to play down claims that Spain been handed a specific power of veto over Gibraltar’s future, acknowledging the guidelines have yet to be formally adopted.
“I don’t think we need to talk about a veto,” he told El Pais.
“The proposal is only a draft of guidelines and it still has to be approved by the heads of state of the 27.”
“But we think it is very positive that the document sets out Spain’s position.”
The Spanish Foreign Minister also insisted Spain had no plans to close the border.
“I don’t see how that would benefit us,” he said.
Questioned by the BBC’s Eddie Mair, Mr Picardo played down claims that the UK Government had let Gibraltar down by failing to include it in the Article 50 letter triggering Brexit.
He said the Gibraltar Government had worked closely with the UK Government in preparing that letter and remained “absolutely confident” about the “tactical and strategic decision” made.
“And as the time comes we’ll make the right tactical and strategic decisions with the Prime Minister leading us in those negotiations, which will be in the interests of the people of Gibraltar in pursuit of their wishes,” he added.
The Chief Minister was pushed on this point and insisted that Gibraltar was mentioned “tangentially” in the letter, which refers to an earlier White Paper that sets out the UK position on Gibraltar.
“I’m not thrilled that we are in the situation in which we are – Gibraltar voted 96% to remain,” ” Mr Picardo said.
“But we have energetically and enthusiastically decided that we have to support the Prime Minister in this process of making Brexit a success for Britain and for Gibraltar.”
“And therein lies the rub: when we get the deal in Brexit, it must be a deal that applies of course to the United Kingdom in respect of future trade, and if there is such a deal, it is only fair, proper and right that it should apply to Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo was asked why sharing sovereignty with Spain “would be so awful”.
He replied that Gibraltar would cease in part to be British if the Spanish co-sovereignty proposal was accepted.
“It would strip us of who we are,” he said.
“It would be absolutely awful because our home would have been handed over to a party who has no claim to title.”
“Our day to day lives would not be the lives that we live today. We would be living in somebody else’s land.”
A senior UK Government minister who was also a guest on the Andrew Marr Show was quizzed further on Gibraltar.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon left no doubt as to the UK’s resolve in standing by Gibraltar.
“We are very clear that there cannot be a change in the status and the sovereignty of Gibraltar unless the people of Gibraltar agree to it, and they don’t, they clearly don’t,” Mr Fallon said.
“So that is not going to happen.”
“Gibraltar is going to be involved in these negotiations. [The Chief Minister] is going to be involved throughout.”
“There will in the end of course be an agreement that fully respects the position of Gibraltar.”
Mr Mair noted that the Conservative manifesto at the last election included Gibraltar in the same paragraph as the Falklands.
He asked Sir Michael how far the UK would be prepared to go to defend Gibraltar.
“We’re going to look after Gibraltar,” the Defence Secretary replied.
“Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way, because the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar, and they’ve made it very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule.”
“It’s interesting that in the draft guidelines from the EU, Spain is not saying that whole thing is subject to the transfer of sovereignty.”
In a separate interview, Lord Howard said there was “no question” about the UK’s stance on the sovereignty of Gibraltar – comparing the Rock to the Falkland Islands.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country.”
“I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
— SophyRidge On Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) April 2, 2017
But Lord Howard’s comments drew immediate flack from political opponents, who insisted on a more tempered tone in the Brexit debate.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “It is unbelievable that within a week of triggering Article 50 there are Conservatives already discussing potential wars with our European neighbours.”
“In only a few days the Conservative right are turning long-term allies into potential enemies.”
“I hope this isn’t a sign of the Government’s approach to the long negotiations to come.”
“Brexiteers have gone from cheering to sabre rattling for war in four days, it is absolutely ludicrous.”
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “Inflammatory comments like those by Michael Howard will not help Britain get what it needs from these difficult Brexit negotiations.”
“Sadly, it’s typical of the botched Tory approach which threatens a bad deal for Britain.”
“Labour is clear that the sovereignty of Gibraltar must be protected and that the interests of British citizens in Gibraltar are safeguarded.”