Measures to protect the rights of citizens and workers after Brexit “can and must” apply to Gibraltar, even if no agreement is reached on the Rock’s inclusion in a transition deal, the Spanish Government said yesterday.
The position was set out in a detailed response to a parliamentary question on Brexit and Gibraltar in which Madrid insisted that its “maximum priority” was protecting the interests of communities in the Campo de Gibraltar.
It came as the UK published a white paper on Brexit setting out how it will legislate for the withdrawal agreement, which the UK Government said must include Gibraltar.
And in a further development, a report in the British press claimed talks over Gibraltar had stalled and prompted the Spanish Government to call on the UK to “redouble its efforts” to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit for the Rock.
The nuanced parliamentary response from the Spanish Government was dated July 11 but was published in the official gazette of the Spanish Congress yesterday.
It is the first formal public position statement on Brexit and Gibraltar by Spain’s new Socialist government.
It underscored Spain’s desire to protect the rights of Spanish cross-border workers in the face of Brexit, although the measures it referred to would also apply to British and other EU nationals.
But the statement also left a question mark – at least as far as Spain is concerned – over the Rock’s inclusion in any transition deal or future relationship between the UK and the EU, which Madrid insists must have its blessing first.
In clear references to the clause 24 veto granted by the EU to Spain, the Spanish Government said Gibraltar’s inclusion in the transition and future relationship would first have to be agreed by the UK and Spanish governments.
In the parliamentary response, the Spanish Government said that it would be “desirable” for any agreement on Gibraltar to “contribute to resolving” matters that have “prejudiced Spanish interests”.
In that context, Madrid underlined issues that have already been the subject of technical discussions including “…smuggling, tax transparency, the possible joint use of the airport, environmental matters and the improvement of police and customs cooperation.”
“The hope is to reach an agreement on these points that would allow the application to Gibraltar of the transition period envisaged in the draft Withdrawal Agreement,” the Spanish Government said in the response.
“But even in the event that it is not possible to reach agreement for application of the transition period to Gibraltar, the provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights and workers can and must apply to Gibraltar.”
The Spanish Government added that after withdrawal, the UK and Spain would have to agree on whether any deal over UK’s future relationship with the EU would also apply to Gibraltar.
“When the time comes to start those negotiations with the UK, it will be done along the same line of seeking the best possible agreement for our citizens and for the interests of the Campo de Gibraltar.”
Its publication came as the UK Government released details of the legislation it plans to use to implement the withdrawal agreement taking the UK out of the European Union next March.
Unveiling the plans in a white paper in the House of Commons, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab described it as “another key milestone in the UK’s path to leaving the EU”.
In doing so, he repeated his warning that the UK could withhold payment of its £39 billion “divorce bill” if the EU fails to reach agreement on its future trade relationship with the UK.
“There must be a firm commitment in the withdrawal agreement requiring the framework for the future relationship to be translated into legal text as soon as possible,” Mr Raab told MPs.
“It is one part of the whole deal we are doing with our EU partners.”
“And of course if one party fails to honour its side of that overall bargain, there will be consequences for the deal as a whole – and that includes the financial settlement.”
The 38-page white paper sets out plans for an EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill to be brought forward after Parliament has approved a deal reached during ongoing negotiations in Brussels, to ensure its implementation in time for the March 29 2019 date of Brexit.
Mr Raab repeated the UK Government’s intention to finalise the withdrawal agreement, as well as a political declaration on future UK-EU relations, in October. This would allow for the new Bill to pass through Parliament in late 2018 and early 2019.
It covers issues including the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons living in the remaining 27 member states, the financial settlement and the details of a transition period expected to end in December 2020. Precise details will not be known until the withdrawal agreement is concluded.
But the UK repeated its longstanding position that the withdrawal agreement must apply to Gibraltar.
“The Agreement will apply to the whole of the UK, and to the extent applicable to the Crown Dependencies, Gibraltar and the other UK Overseas Territories,” the white paper said.
“The Government is working closely with these governments to ensure their priorities are taken into account in the UK-EU negotiations on withdrawal, the implementation period and future relationship.”
Reacting to the statements, the Gibraltar Government said it continued to work to mitigate the impact of Brexit on this community.
“Gibraltar is working to ensure that we are ready to deal with the consequences of any type of Brexit,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.
“We nonetheless continue to work towards arrangements being in place for an orderly Brexit, protecting the rights of British Gibraltarians and UK nationals in Gibraltar as well as the rights of EU Citizens who have a connection with Gibraltar generally.”
The latest developments came amid reports that the UK and Spain were being pushed to “find a solution” with Spain to “avoid a cliff edge” deal for Gibraltar in Brexit negotiations.
In an article in The Guardian, a Spanish diplomatic source was quoted as saying: “We believe it’s fundamental that both delegations – British and Spanish – redouble their efforts to find a solution.”
“It would be dangerous to underestimate the need for a deal. We have to avoid a cliff edge and so we need to show that we can reach a deal,” the Spanish source told the newspaper.
“A deal is still possible but we’re worried about the delay. We will be redoubling our efforts over the next two months and we trust the British government will do the same.”
Gibraltar MEP Molly Scott Cato told the newspaper that Gibraltar’s border with Spain had been “somewhat sidelined in public debate”.
“The depressing reality seems to be that it is Spain that recognises the urgency of arriving at a Brexit deal and the chaos that will be caused at the border with Gibraltar if no deal is reached,” she said.
“For the sake of the thousands of loyal British citizens who live on the Rock – and who voted by 96% to reject Brexit – we need the Conservative government to crush the talk of no deal amongst the Brextremists and urgently engage in serious negotiations.”