The UK Government has again underlined its position that Gibraltar is covered by the Brexit negotiations, as it prepares to push ahead with phase two of the withdrawal discussions including the terms of any potential transitional arrangements.
Responding to a question in the House Of Lords, Conservative peer Lord Callanan, the Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, echoed earlier statements from Prime Minister Theresa May and said the UK would reflect Gibraltar “unique” position.
“We are clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations and we are committed to fully involving them as we leave the EU together,” he said.
“As the Prime Minister said on 18 December, we are not going to exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the agreement for the future.”
“We are entering into these negotiations on behalf of the whole UK family, and will take account of the particular interests of Gibraltar and its unique relationship with the EU.”
Lord Callanan was responding to a question from Conservative peer Baroness Hooper, who wanted to know what steps the UK Government intend to take to protect Gibraltar’s special position as the only UK Overseas Territory within the EU, in particular following the recommendations made last month by the European Commission on transitional arrangements.
In the House of Commons, junior Brexit minister Robin Walker took similar questions from Labour MP Mike Gapes, who wanted to know whether the UK Government would ensure Spain had no veto over Gibraltar’s future trading status with the UK and the EU.
Mr Walker said that once outside the EU, Britain would operate an independent trade policy.
“It will be exclusively for the UK and Gibraltar to determine our future bilateral commercial and trading relationship,” he said.
“In terms of the UK’s and Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU, these are subject to negotiations and we have been clear throughout that we are not going to exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the agreement for the future.”
The answers from both Mr Walker and Lord Callanan represent the latest statements from the UK Government underscoring its stance on Gibraltar within the Brexit talks.
London has repeatedly insisted the Gibraltar is covered by its negotiations and any withdrawal agreement, which will include any transitional arrangements to soften departure from the bloc.
But Spain is pushing its European partners for a controlling voice on anything related to Gibraltar, including whether a transitional agreement applies to the Rock.
The responses to questions in both houses of parliament come amid wide expectation of imminent meetings between UK and Spanish officials as phase two of the Brexit negotiations gets under way.
The meetings, part of a wider series of bilateral discussions between the UK and other EU governments to discuss country-specific issues, will cover a range of Brexit-related subjects of importance to both London and Madrid and will likely touch on Gibraltar.
Discussions between London and Madrid on Brexit are of a bilateral nature because they deal with the UK’s membership of the EU.
But the UK Government’s close relationship with the Gibraltar Government means Gibraltar’s position will be properly reflected if the Rock’s position in Brexit is raised in any discussion, including the UK’s core double-lock commitment on sovereignty.
Likewise the Gibraltar Government continues to insist that it is ready to engage in technical talks with any EU government or organisation, Spain included, with a view to addressing Brexit issues relating to the Rock.
That position was made clear just this week by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who said: “We have already made clear that we are ready to engage in productive technical talks with all relevant parties, from all relevant Member States or EU Institution, in a spirit of cooperation, in order to ensure that Gibraltar residents, tourists and cross-frontier workers can all continue to go about their business.”
“But let us be clear: in respect of all aspects of how Gibraltar’s withdrawal, transition and future relationship with the EU develops, we will have the crucial veto ourselves.”
“Indeed, this should be clear to the whole of the European Union and the United Kingdom, as should the potential consequences for some EU nationals of a premature or disorderly Brexit by Gibraltar.”
The statement in the Lords also comes ahead of a meeting in Madrid later this month bringing together representatives from across all Spanish Government ministries with a stake in Brexit.
This week, PSOE representatives from the Campo met in Madrid with the party’s EU secretary, Iratxe Garcia, to discuss the impact of Brexit on the Campo de Gibraltar.
The Socialists called on the Partido Popular government of Mariano Rajoy to take “immediate” steps to engage in bilateral talks with the UK to mitigate the effects of Brexit on thousands of cross-border workers who come into Gibraltar daily.
The party also called on the Spanish Government to provide firm details of specific measures to promote investment and jobs in the Campo.
Mrs Garcia also said she would stress on the Spanish Government the need to ensure that any transitional arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU are also applied to Gibraltar, “so as not to impact negatively on the thousands of workers in the area”.
The Campo representatives at the meeting said they were “inflexible” in their position that Gibraltar “must not be discriminated against” and that they would not accept a different treatment for the Rock during the Brexit transition period.
“Fluidity at the border is the best guarantee for the continuity of employment of thousands of Spanish and EU worker who cross the fence every day,” the PSOE said in the statement.