The UK will continue to “engage constructively” with Gibraltar and Spain on Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May told Spain’s new Socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez, during their first telephone conversation yesterday.
The Prime Minister congratulated Prime Minister Sánchez on his new role and noted that Spain was “a close ally” and shared a long history of friendship and co-operation with the UK.
“She said we look forward to continuing our work together across the full range of our common interests and objectives, including our close security cooperation and commercial ties,” a spokesman for No.10 Downing Street said, adding the two prime ministers would meet at the June European Council.
“The Prime Minister said the UK was leaving the EU but not Europe, and our relationships with the EU and member states would always be extremely important to us.”
“They agreed on the importance of protecting the rights of Spanish people in the UK as well as the many UK citizens in Spain.”
“On Gibraltar, the Prime Minister said the UK would continue to engage constructively with the Government of Gibraltar and the Spanish to address issues arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”
Details of the exchange came as Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia flew to London for the latest round of discussions with the UK Government under the Joint Ministerial Council for Gibraltar and Brexit.
And in a separate development, Josep Borrell, 71, a former PSOE minister and onetime president of the European Parliament, yesterday reportedly accepted an offer from Mr Sánchez to become Spain’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs.
News of the forthcoming ministerial appointment was seen positively here last night, although it had yet to be officially confirmed as this edition went to press.
Mr Borrell, a pro Spanish unity Catalan Socialist who served as Minister for Public Works under Felipe González and was Leader of the Opposition when José María Aznar’s Partido Popular government was in office, is familiar with Gibraltar and has visited the Rock in the past.
In May 2014 Mr Borrell, who at the time was not in public office, met with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in No.6 Convent Place, where they discussed current affairs.
Mr Borrell was accompanied on that visit by Ana León, the president of the cross-border cuultural association Mar del Sur, who had invited him to address a dinner event in Los Barrios later that day.
The dinner was in honour of Peter Montegriffo, who was named an Honorary Member of Mar del Sur that evening. The event was also attended by a number of local dignitaries including the then Leader of the Opposition, Daniel Feetham.
Addressing guests at the dinner, Mr Borrell spoke of the European project and its ethos of fostering unity and common purpose that transcended borders.
He praised Mar del Sur in that context and added: “Good neighbourly relations are the definition of Europe.”
The latest developments came as a senior aide to Mr Sánchez rejected opposition calls for a snap vote as the minority PSOE government prepares to tackle a budget vote and the Catalonia crisis, insisting elections would not fix Spain’s problems.
Mr Sánchez, whose Socialist party holds just 84 of 350 parliamentary seats, was propelled into office on Friday after an unlikely alliance of anti-austerity and nationalist parties backed his bid to oust Mariano Rajoy’s conservatives over a corruption scandal.
“It’s clearly unusual to govern with 84 lawmakers but the political situation remains very fragmented and everything suggests a new election wouldn’t fix that,” Jose Luis Abalos, often described as Sanchez’s right-hand man, told COPE radio.
The current legislature is due to end in mid-2020.
But the lack of anything approaching a majority as well as a series of tricky political hurdles – including the Catalan crisis, a still to-be-approved 2018 budget and expectations of stiff opposition from Mr Rajoy’s Partido Popular and the centre-right Ciudadanos – make it unclear how long his administration can last.
“The new government is going to be very weak,” analysts from French investment bank Natixis said. “(Its) life expectancy (…) might be very short.”
A Socialist MP acknowledged that situation, saying that while Mr Sánchez was now working on putting together a cabinet that wanted to push through social-minded measures, it would likely not last quite till mid-2020.
“We’re not going to exhaust this legislature,” Adriana Lastra told RTVE.
Mr Sánchez can at least count on healthy growth momentum in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, emphasised on Monday with data showing registered unemployment fell in May to its lowest level since the financial crisis erupted in 2008.
ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE?
Catalan nationalist parties supported Mr Sánchez in Friday’s vote, but Mr Abalos told COPE there had been no quid-pro-quo negotiations between the camps, or discussions over the fate of politicians jailed for their roles in the north eastern region’s secessionist campaign.
Nationalists regained control of the Catalan government on Saturday, and said they wanted talks with Mr Sánchez and would pursue their bid for independence.
Mr Sánchez has also said he wants to talk, though he and his party are opposed to any independence referendum or secession.
The new premier also faces a potential early challenge from the PP, after lawmakers in the party said they did not rule out tabling amendments to the 2018 budget in the upper parliamentary house, where they have a majority.
Any attempt to block the budget – drafted by the PP while in government and voted through the lower house last month after delays – risks creating legislative delays that Mr Sánchez can ill afford.
Over the next few days, Mr Sánchez is expected to unveil a cabinet that may include independent ministers.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Sánchez said at the weekend that it would not include members of the anti-austerity Podemos party which, with 67 lawmakers, was a key ally in helping him topple Mr Rajoy.
That decision seems unlikely to make it any easier for Mr Sánchez to push bills through a fragmented parliament.
However, fast-track decrees and control of the budget, once passed, should allow it to make some legislation, including on pensions, said Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Madrid’s Carlos III university.
“He has some room for manoeuvre,” Mr Simon said, adding that he expected Sanchez’s government to survive at least until after municipal, regional and European ballots due next May.