Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday urged the Spanish Government to embrace “dialogue over vetoes”, as he warned that excluding Gibraltar from the Brexit transition period would impact negatively on the Campo de Gibraltar as well as the Rock.
Speaking at the annual summer course organised by the University of Cadiz in San Roque, Mr Picardo said the UK’s firm position was that Gibraltar is covered by the withdrawal agreement, including the transition period.
The EU and Spain’s position as encompassed in Clause 24 of the bloc’s negotiating guidelines was “an act of enmity” towards Gibraltar, Mr Picardo said.
Not only that, it was “…another manifestation of the little regard shown by part of the Spanish political class, the right, to the reality of the Campo de Gibraltar.”
“To promote the exclusion of Gibraltar and the people of the Campo from the orderly process of withdrawal from the EU is to promote worse conditions for this area..,” the Chief Minister said.
“We don’t believe that’s the way to do business.”
“We don’t believe you need to threaten your neighbour in order to cooperate.”
Addressing a room packed with Spanish politicians past and present, university students and representatives from civil society in Gibraltar and the Campo, Mr Picardo sketched out his government’s view of the current state of play in the Brexit process.
The Chief Minister highlighted the Rock’s economic contribution to the Campo – “we are not a parasite or a leech” – and said it was Gibraltar’s desire to use Brexit as an opportunity to build on that.
“We want this moment of European divorce to be a moment where we develop a new understanding between Spain and Gibraltar,” he said.
Mr Picardo referred to the trilateral process and the gains that it had delivered before the Partido Popular reneged on the agreements reached by the PSOE administration of the time.
He welcomed the positive sentiments expressed by PSOE politicians since the recent change of government in Madrid, citing by way of example comments by Ignacio Sánchez Amor, the state secretary for territorial policy, who had told the seminar on Wednesday that Brexit need not lead to a “complicated and hostile border”.
This was a position shared by the governments of Gibraltar and the UK, Mr Picardo told those present.
But the Chief Minister added that it was necessary to accept Gibraltar’s “legal, political and constitutional reality”, and to respect red lines on sovereignty.
“We all have red lines, but there is common ground in between,” he said.
In that context, Mr Picardo welcomed that Spain had publicly stated that it would not use Brexit as an opportunity to pursue its longstanding sovereignty aspirations over the Rock.
He said this was a position that was in stark contrast to the “pure and simple populism” of the former PP Foreign Minister Jose Manual García-Margallo.
But he added too that the Spanish Government’s public assurances on Brexit and Gibraltar would be “worth nothing” if it nonetheless tried to push on “the ingredients of sovereignty”.
“It’s not serious to say one thing but then try to do another,” he said.
Mr Picardo was not explicit but appeared to be referring to issues that have arisen in technical talks on areas such as the possible joint use of the airport, where Spain has reportedly been pushing for a role in immigration controls within Gibraltar.
The Chief Minister insisted that attempts to claw sovereignty gains stemmed from “the attitude of some” – he did not say who – and was at odds with the public statements of politicians including Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who wants to focus efforts on “the people who have experienced and suffered the absence of dialogue”.
“I’m confident that we can reach agreements, but not if we try to disguise sovereignty and pretend to be so clever that we can slip goals past our rival,” he added.
“It’s not going to happen and it’s not in good faith to try.”
And he added: “Let us recognise that there is a legal, political and constitutional reality called Gibraltar and that, if we are democrats, we cannot try to usurp sovereignty or the ingredients of sovereignty.”
Mr Picardo also used the address to to slip in a response to GSD Leader Keith Azopardi, who yesterday told this newspaper that he believed the Gibraltar Government should have adopted a tougher stance in seeking commitments from the UK Government on Brexit.
Mr Picardo did not name Mr Azopardi, but left no doubt as to who he was talking about.
“I’m told that there’s some clever guy out there, one of those who has no responsibility, who is not part of my team working with the UK and who is not a member of parliament, who thinks I should be tougher with the UK,” he said.
“Pure and simple populism.”
Mr Picardo cited GSD MP Daniel Feetham, “who has been and is my main political rival”, and Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, both of whom had acknowledged in Parliament that the Gibraltar Government had done “everything possible” in the context of Brexit.
That, he added, was the best response to Mr Azopardi’s criticism.