The UK Government is “very clear” that any future Brexit deal must “work well” not just for Britain but for Gibraltar too, Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons yesterday.
Mrs May was responding to a question from Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who asked he to reassure the people of Gibraltar that no agreement would be made “unless they are fully included” and that Spain “has no veto over their future.”
The Prime Minister replied: “We’re very clear on that and we have been continuing to hold talks with the Gibraltar Government to make sure that they are fully aware of the negotiations as those negotiations go along, as indeed we have with others.”
“We’re very clear about the position of Gibraltar.”
Mrs May was taking questions after delivering a statement to the Commons to update MPs on the progress of the Brexit negotiations.
The statement was bullish about the UK’s future prospects and the progress of the talks, but made no mention of Gibraltar.
Labour MP Liz McInnes asked the Prime Minister why, if the position on Gibraltar was clear, she had made no reference to the Rock in her statement.
She also quizzed Mrs May on what discussions her government had held with the Spanish Government about the future of Gibraltar’s border with Spain.
“We’re very clear that the issue of borders and relationships is one that we wish to discuss as part of the overall relationship for the future between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” the Prime Minister replied.
“But as I said earlier, we have been continuing to discuss with the Government of Gibraltar their particular concerns and interests to ensure that we are able to provide a deal which works for Gibraltar as well as the United Kingdom.”
Yesterday the UK Government also published new policy white papers that will pave the way for Britain to operate as an “independent trading nation” after Brexit, even if no trade deal is reached with Brussels.
The white papers on post-Brexit trade and customs arrangements were released as the Prime Minister told MPs that “real and tangible progress” was being made in Brexit talks since her high-profile speech in Florence last month.
Both documents included references to Gibraltar.
“Our approach to developing our future trade policy must be transparent and inclusive. Parliament, the devolved administrations, the devolved legislatures, local government, business, trade unions, civil society, and the public from every part of the UK must have the opportunity to engage with and contribute to our trade policy,” the paper on post-Brexit trade stated.
“We will also take into account the views of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar.”
“The Government is undertaking a comprehensive stakeholder engagement programme as part of our preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU.”
The paper on post-Brexit customs arrangements noted that Gibraltar and the other Overseas Territories were not part of the EU Customs Union and set their own tariffs on goods.
But it added: “However, trade in goods with the EU and imports of goods from the UK in particular via the EU will remain a priority issue for Gibraltar.”
“The other Overseas Territories will also have a keen interest in future EU customs arrangements for their exports to the EU single market.”
“The UK government will continue to involve their governments to ensure that their priorities are taken into account and work with them on any consequences of this Bill as appropriate.”
Despite Mrs May’s positive take on the UK’s future prospects, the Prime Minister suffered a setback in Brussels, as the European Commission’s chief spokesman insisted that further compromise was needed from the UK in order to move on this month to the second phase of talks, dealing with the future trade relationship.
“There is a clear sequencing to these talks,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters.
“There has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen.”
Mrs May told the House of Commons that is was for Brussels to show “flexibility” ahead of a crunch meeting of the European Council next week at which the leaders of the 27 remaining nations will decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made on the divorce deal to move on to the second phase.
In her statement to MPs, Mrs May said: “A new deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends.”
“Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.”
“And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court, but I’m optimistic it will receive a positive response, because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us, but I believe that will also be the best possible deal for our friends, too.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn retorted: “Sixteen months on from the referendum, no real progress has been made.”
Mrs May said the new white papers “pave the way for legislation to allow the UK to operate as an independent trading nation and to create an innovative customs system that will help us achieve the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade as we leave the EU”.
She added: “While I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a Government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing.”
“These white papers also support that work, including setting out steps to minimise disruption for businesses and travellers.”
Mrs May said the purpose of her Florence speech was to “move the negotiations forward”, and added : “That is exactly what has happened. As (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier said after the last round, there is a new dynamic in the negotiations.”
She said that leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel had “welcomed the tone” of her address in the Italian city, in which she accepted the UK would pay billions of pounds to fill gaps in the EU budget left by its departure and would continue to observe EU rules during a transition lasting about two years after Brexit.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that it would take “miracles” for EU leaders to be able to move on to the second phase by the time of the summit on October 19-20.
Mr Barnier has said there still has not been “sufficient progress” on citizens’ rights, the border with Ireland and the UK’s “divorce bill” for the talks to move forward.
But Mrs May insisted she remains optimistic, and paid tribute to the work of Brexit Secretary David Davis, who she said had made “real and tangible progress on a number of vital areas”, including reciprocal healthcare and pension arrangements for EU citizens in the UK and Britons living on the continent.
“While of course progress will not always be smooth, by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way, in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future, I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong,” she said.
“I am determined to deliver what the British people voted for and to get it right. That is my duty as Prime Minister, it is our duty as a Government and it is what we will do.”
Mr Davis came under attack for attending a meeting of the Government’s business council in Downing Street rather than travel to Brussels for the fifth round of formal Brexit negotiations.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign against hard Brexit, said: “Theresa May says the ball is in the EU’s court, yet the negotiations remain stuck in the mud and the Brexit Secretary can’t even be bothered to travel to Brussels to try to move them along.”
“The clock is ticking, so it is time for a change of course from the Government. They need to drop their absurd and dangerous threat to leave without a deal, guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and rethink their ideological decision to leave the single market and customs union.”