Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday assured the people of Gibraltar he remained confident the UK would not enter into new agreements with the EU that may be relevant to Gibraltar if the Spanish Government try to exclude Gibraltar from the application of those agreements.
Yesterday morning the European Parliament voted on the negotiating parameters for the EU in the forthcoming process which will see the UK withdrawal. During the session EU lawmakers adopted a resolution setting their red lines for the two-year divorce talks with Britain and rejected attempts by British MEPs to recognise Gibraltar’s pro-EU stance in the Brexit referendum.
Yesterday evening Mr Picardo side by side the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia at a press conference at No.6 side had wanted to clarify the events of the past few days said he had been fully reassured by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, who in various telephone conversations over the past 72 hours and yesterday afternoon ahead of a press conference at No.6, had explicitly stated the interests of Gibraltar would be protected in the context of the negotiations.
The Chief Minister said he was satisfied with the position set out by the Secretary of State in the context of the Article 50 process and the draft guidelines which the European Council has recently published.
Mr Picardo said he believed the UK Government would staunchly defend the interests of Gibraltar before, during and after the Brexit negotiations and that Gibraltar’s interests would be protected throughout the negotiations.
Mr Davis he said was clearly a support of Gibraltar, having been Minister for Europe, and not a man who would allow himself to be bullied into accepting inferior treatment for Gibraltar in the context of the negotiations to come.
“The interests of Gibraltar, as determined by the Government is concerned, are that the Spanish Government should not be allowed to get away with discriminatory treatment against Gibraltar, or with double vetoes in respect of the application of new UK/EU agreements to Gibraltar,” he stated.
Mr Picardo was clear that the Spanish Government should not be allowed to get away with discriminatory treatment against Gibraltar or with double vetoes in respect of the application of any new EU/UK agreements to Gibraltar.
“Such second bites at the cherry would be, I am sure, entirely unacceptable to anybody who presumes to be supportive of Gibraltar and its people,” he added.
Mr Picardo reiterated that Mr Davis had told UK Parliament that he wanted to deliver for the UK “the exact same benefits” in respect of future agreements with the European Union as the UK, and therefore Gibraltar.
Mr Picardo said he applauded and supported Mr Davis’ ambitions for Britain and Gibraltar in this respect.
“I am therefore confident that with Mr Davis’ assertion to me that the UK will not agree to future agreements that exclude Gibraltar, we will be able also to enjoy those “exact same benefits” in Gibraltar in the future. In that respect, the clause inserted by Spain into the draft EU guidelines may, if it endures in its current form beyond the 29th April, yet make the Spanish Government a hostage of its own attempts to abuse its position in respect of Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo revealed that during the course of his conversations with Mr Davis he had confidentially but very helpfully fully briefed him on the content of his discussion with Spanish counterparts during the course of his visit to Madrid this week.
He was keen to point out that the telephone conversations with Mr Davis were further to those held with the Prime Minister Theresa May and the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who had both also pledged to defend and protect not just Gibraltar’s sovereignty, but also its economic well-being were also entirely supportive of Gibraltar’s position.
THE EU PARLIAMENT
Yesterday in the European Parliament voted that there should be no amendments to the resolution.
The lawmakers had rejected two nearly identical amendments that would have added to the text a reference to Gibraltar’s pro-EU vote in last year’s Brexit referendum, a move meant to recall its residents back the EU but also prefer to remain in Britain.
The changes proposed by British Conservative lawmakers in the EU parliament and by a cross-party group of MEPs wanted to highlight that Gibraltar voted against Brexit. They also wanted to add a reference to Gibraltar in a paragraph saying that a majority of electors in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU just like Gibraltar.
The main groupings in the parliament opposed this change because “we do not agree to give to the Gibraltar issue the same importance as Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s”, a parliament official said.
Other amendments proposed by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) eurosceptic grouping, deploring Tusk’s guidelines on Gibraltar, were also widely rejected.
Dr Garcia said the resolution came about following a pact between the main groups in European Parliament that there should be no amendments to it.
“Unfortunately, none of the relevant amendments that were tabled were taken on board, although 209 MEPs supported the inclusion of a reference to Gibraltar and 440 voted against,” he said
And he added that it was important to see this in the context of the pact that no amendments should be tabled and of the pressure placed by the leadership of the groups, at the behest of Spanish MEPs, that Members should vote against it.
“The Government is very grateful to the 209 MEPs who defied this intense pressure and decided to vote to include Gibraltar anyway and to the Office in Brussels for their work. The position of the European Parliament in respect of the negotiations is now fixed.”
He explained “there were three amendments tabled about Gibraltar, one by the ECR group (which includes the UK Conservatives), one by the EFDD group (which includes UKIP) and a third amendment which was supported by 58 MEPs from different political groups and who represent a number of different countries.”
Meanwhile in a display of EU unity, the legislature’ text repeated the same priorities set by the EU summits’ chair Donald Tusk in his draft negotiating guidelines released last week.
The European Parliament wants talks on Britain’s future relations with the EU to start only after “substantial progress” is made on the bill for Brexit bill, on the Irish border, and on the rights of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain and the one million British residents in EU countries.
The text was backed by more than two-thirds of the deputies in the parliament, which will have to approve any deal with the United Kingdom.
Britain’s Under Secretary for Brexit Robin Walker said this was “a positive move” although Britain would prefer to start trade talks as soon as possible. He told reporters at the session in Strasbourg that Britain will also put citizens’ rights first in the Brexit process.
In a minor departure from Tusk’s text, the parliament’s resolution hinted at the possibility for Britain to reverse the Brexit process, stressing however that this would be possible only with the approval of all the remaining 27 member states.
“The door is open if Britain changes its mind,” Gianni Pittella, head of the centre-left grouping, the second largest in the parliament, told reporters. The Greens expressed a similar wish.
The move was aimed at strengthening the hand of the 48 percent of Britons who voted against Brexit in last year’s referendum, but was opposed by the EU chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, parliament officials said.
The conservative grouping, the largest in the legislature, tried to distance itself from such a statement, although they backed the resolution. “Leave means leave,” the conservatives’ leader Manfred Weber said.
The resolution also allowed transitional arrangements to smooth the UK’s departure, but they should not last more than three years. MEPs also insisted that at the end of the process Britain cannot expect better conditions than when it was an EU member.