Gibraltar was discussed at a “productive and constructive” informal meeting of UK and Spanish officials in Madrid yesterday, part of the UK’s wider engagement with EU governments to address the practical aspects of Brexit.
Gibraltar was just one item on a longer agenda covering issues arising from Brexit of direct relevance to both governments and their citizens.
Although no Gibraltarian officials were present at the meeting, the Gibraltar Government was aware that it was happening and had been closely involved in preparing the UK’s positions on issues relating to Gibraltar.
Yesterday Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his team were also fully briefed on the discussions in the Spanish capital immediately after the meeting concluded.
The meeting comes as the UK and the EU prepare to move to phase two of the Brexit negotiations having agreed the withdrawal agreement last December.
The Madrid meeting was attended by officials from the Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union, as well as their counterparts from the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It came a day after UK ministers travelled to Berlin for talks on Brexit with the German Government.
No details about the content of the Madrid discussions were released last night, but the UK has stated repeatedly that Gibraltar is covered by its withdrawal negotiations.
That position would likely have been made clear in Madrid yesterday, as would the UK’s double-lock commitment on sovereignty.
As this edition went to press, the Spanish Government had not commented publicly on the meeting, although its well-known position is that no part of the Brexit deal can be extended to Gibraltar without prior agreement between London and Madrid.
However public statements by Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, suggest that Madrid, conscious of the wider bilateral issues at stake between the UK and Spain and the complexity of the overall withdrawal process, is taking a pragmatic approach to aspects of Brexit that relate to Gibraltar.
Mr Dastis has stated on numerous occasions that Spain will not hinge its Brexit position on Gibraltar and that Madrid wants to maintain the status quo at the border, a critical issue not just for Gibraltar but for the Campo de Gibraltar too.
And while Spain’s joint sovereignty proposal – firmly rejected by the Gibraltar Government – remains on the table, Spanish officials no longer trumpet it publicly at every opportunity as they did in the past, suggesting a shift in focus to more practical issues.
Privately, officials on both sides of the border express the hope that sufficient common ground can be found to achieve progress on key concerns such as border fluidity while respecting core red lines on sovereignty.
For now though, the discussions are informal and confidential.
“UK and Spanish officials held a productive, informal meeting today as part of the UK’s ongoing engagement with Member States on the practical implications of its exit from the EU,” a spokesman for the UK Government said yesterday.
“Officials discussed a wide-range of technical exit-related issues, agreeing a constructive approach to addressing these, including where relevant to Gibraltar.”
“The UK is committed to fully involving Gibraltar as we prepare for negotiations to leave the EU, to ensure that their priorities are taken properly into account.”
“The Chief Minister of Gibraltar and his team were fully aware of this meeting, the process of setting it up and have been fully briefed on the discussion held at the meeting.”
Last night a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place confirmed that the Gibraltar Government had been fully briefed on the informal meeting in Madrid.
“Officials discussed a wide-range of technical exit-related issues. Some of these were relevant to Gibraltar,” the Gibraltar Government spokesman said.
“The Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, along with the Attorney General, have already been fully briefed on the outcome of this informal meeting.”
The spokesman said the Madrid meeting came a day after senior UK officials from the Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union travelled to Gibraltar on Wednesday for meetings with the Gibraltar Government.
Gibraltar work with the UK Government on Brexit-related issues continues in London today, where the working group on financial services and gaming is due to meet to continues its discussions.
The UK Government is firmly committed to ensuring continued access to the UK market for Gibraltar-based companies after Brexit.