Brexit offers a chance for dialogue and “a positive dynamic” with Gibraltar that could generate jobs and prosperity in the Campo de Gibraltar, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signalled yesterday, as he vowed his government “will not waste this opportunity”.
Speaking in the Spanish parliament during a control session, Mr Sánchez said his government would tackle “head on” the problems of drug trafficking that had plagued the Campo in recent months.
But while he said the first step was a tough police response, Mr Sánchez acknowledged that long term solutions were needed including encouraging investment and job creation.
In that respect, Brexit was an opportunity to cut through “the rhetoric over the perennial debate” on Gibraltar and focus instead on “the very people who are living and suffering the consequences of that absence of dialogue”.
The intervention was welcomed by No.6 Convent Place, which said it shared the view that Brexit could become “unlikely catalyst for mutual benefit”.
These were Mr Sánchez’ first public comments on Gibraltar since he became Prime Minister after ousting the Partido Popular’s Mariano Rajoy in a no confidence motion tabled in the wake of a court judgement on a corruption case involving senior figures in the PP.
They reflected earlier statements he made while in opposition, including during a visit to the Campo earlier this year when he upheld Madrid’s traditional position on sovereignty but underlined too the need for cross-border cooperation and dialogue.
But they came too amid reports that Spain was demanding new reassurances from Brussels over the status of its Brexit ‘veto’ over Gibraltar.
Three European diplomatic sources told The Telegraph that Spain’s new socialist government was demanding that this week’s European Council conclusions explicitly reference the need for a solution for Gibraltar before any deal applies to the Rock.
In the Congress yesterday, Mr Sánchez was asked about Gibraltar by Aitor Esteban, the parliamentary spokesman for the Basque nationalist party PNV, which played a critical role in supporting the Socialist motion that debunked Mr Rajoy from office.
“Don’t forget the Gibraltarians,” Mr Esteban said during an intervention on Brexit, adding “…they have a lot to say in all this.”
“I also think that, if we manage this well…this can be an opportunity for the Campo de Gibraltar and the region’s economy,” he said.
“We are not going to find the best solutions for all citizens by wrapping ourselves multiple times in the flag, and as such I think that point of view should not be missed.”
In reply, Mr Sánchez agreed with the Basque politician that Brexit and Gibraltar could be turned into an opportunity to offer different options to communities in the Campo.
“On the issue of Gibraltar and the opportunity for the Campo de Gibraltar, it’s true,” he replied, in direct response to Mr Esteban.
Mr Sanchez said Spain’s new Socialist government had discussed how best to tackle drug trafficking in the Campo during its very first cabinet meeting, insisting that its initial response would be robust.
“This is not a matter on which the Government of Spain is going to look the other way,” he said.
“We are going to face this head on, being very conscious that in the short term what we need is a police response to guarantee public safety.”
“But, of course, many other things are needed to do with employment, the creation of opportunities and social integration policies.”
“And in this sense, I share with you that perhaps we have an opportunity to create this positive dynamic in the Campo de Gibraltar.”
“And I want to say to you that we will not waste this opportunity and we are going to look at it with the people of the Campo de Gibraltar in mind, and that on many occasions, behind the rhetoric over the perennial debate, we forget the very people who are living and suffering the consequences of that absence of dialogue.”
Last night Chief Minister Fabian Picardo welcomed Mr Sánchez’ statements in the Spanish parliament, but struck a note of caution too.
“Prime Minister Sánchez is talking the language we identify with, the language of dialogue, cooperation and opportunity,” he told the Chronicle.
“We will continue to work towards a better understanding between our respective people and the ultimate aim of having Brexit become an unlikely catalyst for mutual benefit.”
“But, additionally, no one should expect that we will be able to find quick fixes to age old problems overnight.”
Earlier in his intervention in the Congress in Madrid yesterday, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister reflected on the wider issues of Brexit and said he hoped the withdrawal agreement with the UK could be agreed with the EU by October.
He highlighted citizens’ rights as a “particularly relevant” aspect of the negotiations as far as Spain was concerned.
“As you know, there are many citizens, Spanish men and women, who work and study in the United Kingdom,” he said.
“And our country hosts the largest number of British nationals in any EU member state.”
He said the negotiations between the EU and the UK were “advancing” but that there were still “very important issues pending”, including Gibraltar and the Northern Ireland border.
On Gibraltar, he reflected on the EU’s negotiating position that “…any solution must be with agreement between Spain and the UK.”
“And we are working for that to be the case for the benefit of everyone, for our citizens, for the British citizens who live among us, and for an orderly, agreed Brexit that allows in the medium term some sort of close relationship between the EU and the UK,” he said.