Gibraltar’s inclusion in the Brexit transition period will depend on whether agreement can be reached on “complicated” issues such as the airport and tobacco smuggling, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, said this week.
Speaking after a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels, Mr Dastis insisted Spain would not block the wider Brexit deal over Gibraltar and would respect measures in the withdrawal agreement relating to citizens’ rights and cross-frontier workers.
But he said Gibraltar’s inclusion in any transition period and future agreement between the UK and the EU would depend on the progress of ongoing discussions about what he described as “irritants”.
Mr Dastis also acknowledged that talks about Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with Spain and the wider EU had become strained, although he remained optimistic of a final agreement being reached.
“During the course of these negotiations we have identified problems that we are tackling and problems on which we are not moving forward as we would like,” he told reporters.
“I believe new proposals are currently being exchanged to try and overcome these challenges and we are confident that there will be an agreement at the end.”
“In any event, we are not going to block the overall [Brexit] agreement over the issue of Gibraltar.”
“We have already said that we are not conditioning the agreement between the EU and the UK on there being a resolution of the Gibraltar problem.”
“If the problem of Gibraltar is not resolved, or if the irritants that we want to address are not resolved, what will happen is that the transition period and specific aspects of the agreement [on future relations between the UK and the EU] will not be applied to Gibraltar.”
“But we have said from the outset that we are ready to apply the measures in the exit agreement relating to citizens and on cross-frontier workers to those workers who cross the fence, in one direction or the other, to work or enjoy a normal life between Gibraltar and the rest of Spain.”
Asked what the biggest stumbling block was in the talks, Mr Dastis flagged up tobacco smuggling and the airport, which he described as “a complicated issue”.
“But these are not the only issues,” he said.
“There are various issues and, as such, until that final agreement is reached, we cannot consider the matter resolved.”
Mr Dastis said the shape of the agreement over Gibraltar’s future was dependant on the final outcome of the wider Brexit negotiations, adding that the Rock’s future after withdrawal was not top of the agenda.
“First we have to establish what the framework [for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU] will be, and then, on the basis of the ideas and content that is agreed, we will see how this is applied to Gibraltar,” he said.
“So there will be a bilateral discussion between the UK and Spain, but it will not be immediate or one of the most pressing issues.”
He added too that while discussions about Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU were already under way, they were subject to “a gradual, sequential process” linked to the broader Brexit negotiations.
“First the UK has to leave and the conditions of that exit have to be fixed, and it is the subsequent future that we are interested in,” he said.
And while he insisted that Spain would not block a Brexit deal because of Gibraltar, Mr Dastis said the UK would also have to take a position on the issue.
“This is not something that dependant solely on us,” he said.
“It depends too on the UK and on an agreement being reached.”
“The fundamental thing in our judgement, and we hope the UK thinks the same too, is that there be a constructive relationship between the UK and the EU.”
“Subsequently, we will see to what extent that is applied to Gibraltar.”
Pic from Press Association