The UK must reinforce its Brexit commitments to Gibraltar with “legal guarantees in addition to ministerial statements”, the House of Lords was told last night.
Lord Luce, a former Governor of Gibraltar who sits as a crossbench peer, said acknowledged that Prime Minister Theresa May had confirmed Gibraltar would not be excluded from the negotiations for either the transition period or the future agreement.
But speaking during the debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, he added that Spanish efforts to secure a controlling voice over the application of any agreement to Gibraltar had created great uncertainty here.
“The people of Gibraltar need not just reassuring words, but clear legal reassurances wherever possible that their acquired rights which are in existence now are preserved…and that both the transition and final outcome applies to them,” he said, highlighting the importance of continued access to the UK market for financial services.
“This and future growth must be guaranteed for the future,” Lord Luce added.
“There must be no discriminatory treatment against Gibraltar at any stage as a result of this Bill or any forthcoming legislation concerning our arrangements with the EU.”
“Anything that can be done in this Bill and future ones to reinforce this point will help ease the minds of Gibraltarians.”
“They have been loyal to us in good times and bad. We in turn must do whatever we can to assure their future.”
During his intervention as part of a wide-ranging debate, Lord Luce reminded peers that Gibraltar had voted by 96% to remain in the EU.
He said it was “therefore not surprising” that Gibraltarians wanted to protect the rights and benefits they had acquired since joining the bloc with the UK.
“The best way to reassure them is to provide legal guarantees in addition to ministerial statements,” he said.
Lord Luce said Gibraltarians had “every reason to feel anxious about the future” because of the EU’s inclusion of a clause purporting to give Spain a veto over the application to Gibraltar of any future UK/EU deal, or transitional arrangements.
He acknowledged that the UK Government “does not accept the legal validity” of that clause, but said the fact that Spain had persuaded the European Council to incorporate this clause in the EU’s negotiating guidelines “is most unhelpful.”
“Therefore we have a scenario where in the worst case Spain can seek to exclude Gibraltar from any broad agreement between the EU and the UK and insist on a separate agreement over Gibraltar,” he said.
“What we do not want is a situation where the British Government is faced at the end of the overall negotiations with a stark choice: either accept the general agreement with the EU and exclude Gibraltar, or postpone the general agreement until we and Spain can agree on Gibraltar’s future arrangements.”
Lord Luce, who has deep knowledge of the issues facing this community, referred to “Francoist provocations” from some elements in the Spanish Government over recent years, both at the border and at sea, and said “the treatment of Catalonia gives us no encouragement” as to the future.
“The Spanish bullfighting culture still emerges from time to time,” he said.
But the cross-bench peer also insisted that it was “very much in the interests” of the UK and Spain that there should be “a satisfactory resolution” to any issues relating to Gibraltar, particularly those to do with border fluidity.
He said there was a need for the Spanish and British Governments “to work in their common interest” on Gibraltar and”well before any final agreement on the EU is put to parliaments.”
“Good relations between us are important, and both countries and Gibraltar stand to gain by a cooperative arrangement across the border,” Lord Luce added.
As this edition went to press, the House of Lords was still in session debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as part of its second reading, which continues today.