The border between Gibraltar and Spain need not become “complicated or hostile” after Brexit, a Socialist Spanish MP said yesterday, as he encouraged Gibraltar, the UK and Spain to explore practical ways of strengthening cooperation irrespective of the progress of wider Brexit negotiations.
Ignacio Sánchez Amor, the recently-appointed state secretary for territorial policy in the Spanish Government, was speaking at the annual summer courses organised by the University of Cadiz in San Roque, and was drawing on his past experience as PSOE spokesman in the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Spanish Congress and his work with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, dealing with EU borders.
Mr Sánchez reflected on the uncertainty created by Brexit and the political upheaval in the UK, where positions in the withdrawal negotiations were constantly shifting due to the “frivolous” and “frankly sad” in-fighting in the Conservative party.
The PSOE politician said Brexit should not be allowed to become “an alibi for intellectual laziness”, highlighting the need to find solutions for Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar in parallel to progress or otherwise in the UK’s withdrawal negotiations.
He underlined, for example, the work of the Cross-Frontier Group and the proposal to establish a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation, a European legal instrument designed to facilitate and promote cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation.
“Let’s work with what we have because it’s impossible to see where Brexit is going,” he said.
Mr Sánchez, who acknowledged Gibraltar’s “collective ethic of resistance” to Spain’s sovereignty aspirations, also stressed the Socialist government’s commitment to put the interests of citizens first on the Brexit process.
“We can’t allow border workers to be used as hostages to pressure the other side, be it by one side or the other,” he said.
And reflecting on the impact of Brexit on frontier fluidity, he added: “Even as an external border, it need not be a complicated or hostile border.”
The summer course, coordinated by Cadiz university Professor Alejandro del Valle and Gibraltarian barrister Charles Gomez, drew interest not just from Spanish students but from Campo politicians and members of the public from both sides of the border.
Mr Sánchez’ words were echoed by Ángel Luis Sánchez Muñoz, the secretary general for foreign initiatives at the Junta de Andalucia, who sketched out the regional government’s concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on Andalucia.
He too expressed confidence that mechanisms could be found to minimise the impact of Brexit on border fluidity.
“There is no reason why things can’t continue as they are, or be even better,” he said.
And he also urged progress on the ground in Gibraltar and the Campo against the wider uncertainty of Brexit.
“If we can make the best of Brexit, then let’s make the best of Brexit,” he said.
“But we can’t waste any more time.”
Yesterday’s session also heard from Fernando Morán Calvo-Sotelo, the special representative in the Campo for Spain’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who set out Madrid’s position in respect of Brexit and Gibraltar.
Mr Morán also insisted that the Spanish Government’s key interest was in protecting citizens’ rights in the withdrawal process, in particular for cross-border workers, adding that Madrid was “open and ready to negotiate to reach agreements”.
He also played down the “so-called clause 24 veto”, stressing that what the EU guidelines set out was the need for an agreement between the UK and Spain on Gibraltar’s inclusion in the transition period and future agreement.
Delegates at the seminar were also addressed by Juan Antonio Yáñez Barnuevo, a retired Spanish ambassador who held senior posts during a long diplomatic career, including at the UN.
Mr Yáñez said that although there had been “sporadic” high-level discussions and technical talks at official level on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future, more needed to be done.
“It’s not enough, given the challenges of Brexit in the medium and short term,” he said, adding that there was a need for a formal framework within which to find “flexible, imaginative formulas” for the future.
The seminar continues today in San Roque, where both Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Attorney General Michael Llamas are scheduled to speak.