The Gibraltar Government yesterday blasted Spain’s ‘disgraceful but predictable’ attempt to have the EU single out Gibraltar in its guidelines for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
The angry response came after the European Council’s draft guidelines for the negotiations appeared to offer Spain a veto on the Rock’s future.
The draft guidelines published by Council president Donald Tusk state that after Brexit, “…no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Spain, like every other EU member state, already had a veto on the deal for the UK future relationship with the EU, which must be agreed unanimously by the remaining 27 members. In that respect, the guideline on Gibraltar says nothing new.
But in singling out Gibraltar, the Council appears to be siding with Spain’s argument that the Rock’s future is a bilateral matter, despite the UK Government’s insistence that the Rock’s future is part of the wider negotiations.
Rows between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar have held up entire EU deals in the past – including current legislation governing air travel – and Brussels is keen to avoid a new bilateral dispute getting in the way of an orderly Brexit.
“This seems intended to give Spain something so they don’t try to hold the whole withdrawal treaty hostage over it,” one senior EU diplomat in Brussels told Reuters.
A spokesman for the Spanish government said Madrid was satisfied with the decision.
“It is what we wanted and what we have said from the beginning… The recognition by the European Union of the legal and political situation that Spain has defended fully satisfies us,” Iñigo Mendez de Vigo told a news conference following the Spanish Government’s weekly cabinet meeting.
But yesterday the UK Government reaffirmed its “absolutely steadfast” support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy, which means Gibraltar threatens to become a major point of contention in the exit talks.
A UK Government spokesman repeated statements made by Prime Minister Theresa May to the House of Commons on Wednesday after she triggered the Brexit process.
Mrs May had clearly stated the UK’s double-lock commitment never to negotiate on sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.
“We are clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations,” the Prime Minister said at the time.
“We have committed to involving Gibraltar fully in the work that we are doing.”
As pressure mounted on the UK Government to stand by Gibraltar, No.6 Convent Place said Gibraltar had been “shamefully” singled out for unfavourable treatment.
The guidelines, which were leaked on Friday morning, have yet to be formally adopted by the EU’s 27 members.
Yet even in their draft form, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the move was discriminatory and “unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable”, adding that this was a “predictable machination” and part of the reason why Gibraltar had overwhelmingly backed Remain.
“Gibraltar’s record as a member of the EU is an exemplary one and our people enthusiastically supported continued membership of the EU in the referendum,” he said.
“Yet this draft suggests that Spain is trying to get away with mortgaging the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar to its usual obsession with our homeland.”
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own narrow, political interests.”
“Brexit is already complicated enough without Spain trying to complicate it further.”
— Fabian Picardo (@FabianPicardo) March 31, 2017
Mr Picardo added: “What we are seeing is a clear manifestation of the predictably predatory attitude that we anticipated Spain would seek to abusively impose on its partners, as they have been threatening to do since the referendum took place and as the only member of the EU with an obsession with Gibraltar.”
“This will surprise no-one. Spain has been holding the whole EU to ransom on aviation matters for the past five years in respect of Gibraltar airport. The whole world and the whole EU should know: this changes nothing in respect of our continued, exclusive British Sovereignty.”
“The fact is that during and beyond the Brexit process, Gibraltar will continue to grow and prosper economically and will, paradoxically, provide wealth for the whole Spanish region around us.”
Yesterday Mr Picardo said he had spoken to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who told him the UK would remain “implacable” in its defence of the rights of the Gibraltarians.
Mr Johnson later tweeted about his conversation with the Chief Minister.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 31, 2017
Mr Picardo said issues related to Gibraltar’s continued access to the UK market and access to trade deals with the rest of the world were outside the scope of the final negotiating parameters which will be established by the EU Council by the end of April.
The Government of Gibraltar will continue its work on Brexit matters on the lines it has already established, Mr Picardo said.
The GSD expressed its ‘disappointment’ that the EU had singled out Gibraltar as a bilateral issue between the UK and Spain.
In a statement, the Opposition flagged how on Thursday evening the Attorney General Michael Llamas told the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses that he felt confident Spain would not want to be seen by its European partners as being unreasonable by vetoing an entire deal between the UK and the EU because of its position in respect of Gibraltar.
“It is precisely to avoid this situation that the European Union is now attempting to carve out Gibraltar as a bilateral issue between Spain and the United Kingdom,” the GSD said.
In practical terms, the GSD said, it means Spain could block Gibraltar’s access to any trade deal the UK may be able to negotiate with the EU and it also means that, unlike the Irish border, which is a recognised EU issue, the Gibraltar border will become bilateral to the UK and Spain.
“It now falls to the UK’s negotiating team to translate goodwill towards Gibraltar into action and reject outright such a prejudicial position to Gibraltar’s long term interests,” the Opposition said.
Opposition leader Daniel Feetham tweeted about the developments.
If U.K. Govt promises are to be meaningful, the planned exclusion of Gib from any Brexit deal must be immediately & unequivocally rejected.
— Daniel Feetham QC (@dannyfeetham) March 31, 2017
Yesterday the Prime Minister was urged to take action to protect the interests of Gibraltarians.
Lord Boswell, the Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, reminded Mrs May of the conclusions a report on Gibraltar published by the committee earlier this year.
“The EU Committee’s recent…makes clear that the UK Government has a ‘moral responsibility to ensure Gibraltar’s voice is heard, and its interests respected, throughout the Brexit process’,” he said.
“So it’s unfortunate that the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk, triggering Article 50, made no mention of Gibraltar – the Government mustn’t give the impression that Gibraltar is an afterthought.”
“The reality is that any agreement on the future UK-EU relationship is likely to require the unanimous agreement of all 27 remaining Member States, including Spain, as well as the UK, and it’s understandable that the EU doesn’t want Spain to use Gibraltar as an excuse to hold up an agreement that everyone else wants.”
“But in the absence of any clear commitment to defend Gibraltar’s interests by the Prime Minister, the door has been opened for the EU to present it as a disputed territory, without a voice of its own in negotiations that will have profound implications for its future prosperity.”
“The Gibraltarians voted by a 99% majority to remain British, and by a 96% majority to remain in the EU.”
“The Government must repay that trust and defend Gibraltar’s interests throughout the Brexit process.”
“It needs to move quickly, and decisively. And as part of this, it needs to remind the EU that it too has a responsibility to reach a deal that protects the interests of thousands of EU nationals who cross the border from Spain daily to work in Gibraltar.”
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake said the clause showed the UK Government’s Brexit strategy was potentially damaging to the future of the Rock.
Mr Brake said: “Confirmation that Gibraltar’s future must be agreed by the UK and Spain shows just how damaging the Government’s hard Brexit will be on this strategically-important British territory.”
“Theresa May must urgently produce a plan that protects the citizens of Gibraltar, including their businesses and communities.”
“It is our obligation to support our overseas territories, and any attempt to brush off the importance of this issue is a dereliction of duty by the Government.”
“Only the Lib Dems are fighting against hard Brexit, and to keep the UK’s place in the single market.”
Conservative MP Bob Neill, a long-time supporter of Gibraltar, said: “Gibraltar’s friends in the UK will be watching this very carefully. There will be no sell out.”
Gibraltar's friends in the UK will be watching this very carefully. There will be no sell out! https://t.co/mlkzRbWJSn
— Bob Neill (@neill_bob) March 31, 2017
The Tory chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, Jack Lopresti, said: “It’s predictable that given Spain’s previous behaviour, they would try and use Brexit as a fig leaf for troublemaking over the status of Gibraltar.”
“It is shameful that the EU have attempted to allow Spain an effective veto over the future of British sovereign territory, flying in the face of the will of the people of Gibraltar.”
“The UK Government’s position is clear and will stand. There will be no negotiation over the status of Gibraltar.”
— Jack Lopresti MP (@Jackloprestimp) March 31, 2017