Anyone expecting a change in Spain’s Brexit stance toward Gibraltar would have been disappointed by developments in Brussels this week. They should have been looking at Madrid instead.
The reference to Gibraltar in the European Council’s conclusions yesterday should not come as a surprise. Having secured the Clause 24 veto from EU partners, Spain was never going to back away from the negotiating advantage it gives Madrid.
But away from the noise of the European Council, there was a subtle shift in the Spanish discourse that went largely unnoticed, save for in the Gibraltar and Campo press.
In the Spanish Congress on Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made clear he understood the impact Brexit could have on the Campo de Gibraltar.
Pressed by a Basque politician, he said the UK’s withdrawal from the EU offered an opportunity for “a positive dynamic” in relations with Gibraltar, a break from a “perennial debate” that puts nationalist rhetoric above the interests of people.
Sanchez acknowledged too that working with Gibraltar could create opportunities for the Campo and put people first for a change.
It is here where things have shifted, and it is now time to resume the discussions about the Rock’s future relationship with Spain and the EU.
That should happen sooner rather than later because, as the EU reminded Theresa May yesterday, time is running out.
Spain knows that Gibraltar’s red lines are fixed and will not change. Likewise, Gibraltar knows where Spain’s red lines are.
But as the 2006 Cordoba agreement demonstrated, there is room for consensus in between.
Sanchez’ statements in the Spanish parliament suggest the mood music in Madrid has changed for the better.
Let us not forget that it was a PSOE government that was able to find common ground with Gibraltar in 2006.
In other words, where Gibraltar and Brexit are concerned, there is still much to play for.