Brexit offers an opportunity for a new relationship between Gibraltar and the EU – and in particular, with Spain – that will benefit communities on either side of the border for generations to come, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday.
He was speaking on Sky News a day after a Spanish news website reported that the Spanish Government would no longer push a hardline stance on Gibraltar, opting instead to “lower the tensions” to avoid derailing a wider Brexit deal.
El Confidencial Digital said this message had already been communicated directly by Spain to authorities in Gibraltar.
Speaking on Sky News’ flagship Sunday new programme ‘Ridge on Sunday’, Mr Picardo told interviewer Niall Paterson that Gibraltar remained open to dialogue with all parties in the Brexit process in order to find pragmatic solutions to practical problems arising from withdrawal.
“We have been ready to engage in technical discussions that improve the lives of people across that frontier long before Brexit and during Brexit,” he said.
“We think we have a responsibility to ensure that in the future, we have laid out a method of enduring relationship with the European Union – and in particular Spain, because she is our neighbour and we reach the rest of the European Union through Spain – in a way that works for generations.”
“We remain open to that [and] we’ll be working with colleagues in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union on how we can ensure that such mechanisms are part of the new multilateral arrangements that the United Kingdom enters into with the European Union.”
The Chief Minister welcomed recent statements by Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, who has repeatedly stated that there is no prospect of a border closure as a result of Brexit and that Spain will instead work to maintain frontier fluidity.
“He’s an Andalusian, and I think he appreciates the importance and the sensitivity of that for families, let alone for businesses in this region,” Mr Picardo said.
“I believe that we can confine the idea of the border between Gibraltar and Spain being closed to the history books, where it deserves to be.”
Pressed on the issue of a potential border closure as happened in 1969 under the Spanish dictator General Franco, Mr Picardo said those times were in the past.
“I think Franco is long dead,” he said.
“There may be some people in Spain who still worship at the altar of his policies, but I don’t think anybody sensible in any of the political parties today represented in the Spanish parliament is going to seriously suggest that they should cut of 2.5 square miles of the continent of Europe from the rest of the European Union, even if we’ve left the political club that is the EU.”
Mr Picardo was also asked about the controversial clause 24 veto in the EU’s negotiating guidelines, which seeks to give Spain the final word on the application of any future or transitional Brexit deal to Gibraltar.
He said Gibraltar believed that the veto and any attempt to hive Gibraltar off from the main Brexit deal would be “contrary to EU law”.
“We think that there are good arguments that we could deploy in the event that there was an attempt to engage clause 24 in a way that was negative for Gibraltar,” he said.
But he added that Gibraltar wanted to avoid confrontation and instead engage in constructive dialogue.
“We can all die in a ditch arguing about never surrendering and our finest and darkest hours, but I don’t think that’s going to solve anything,” Mr Picardo said.
The report in El Confidencial Digital, based on the comments of an anonymous senior official in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid, reflected a similar sentiment from the Spanish side.
It also suggested that Spain would hold fire on using its veto.
“If a good agreement is reached at community level with the UK, then that is not going to be held back over Gibraltar,” the source told the website.
According to the website, that position had been commincated directly to the Gibraltar Government.
The source, highlighting the UK’s role as “a principal ally” for Spain against the independence drive in Catalonia, told the website that “there is direct contact” with Gibraltar and a clear message: “We are not going to boicot any Brexit resolution to pressure Gibraltar.”
Yesterday No.6 Convent Place said it would not comment on press articles based on unnamed Spanish sources.
However it reiterated that it remained ready to discuss enhanced cooperation for the benefit of communities on both sides of the frontier, though Gibraltar would not shift from established red lines on sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.
“We have seen and we are going to see so much unattributed comment in Spanish and international media in the coming months,” Mr Picardo said.
“The best thing for people in Gibraltar to do is to concentrate on the analysis of the actual drafts and then the final versions of the political agreements in relation to Brexit and then the detail of the legal texts that will follow them.”
“That’s what my Brexit team is doing.”
“Everything else, attributed or otherwise, is more heat than light and is really not going to help us as we progress through Brexit.”