Any Brexit agreement must protect border fluidity and Gibraltar’s economic security, Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said last night.
Ms Thornberry, speaking at the Gibraltar reception in the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, said “internal squabbling” in the Conservative Party risked a ‘no deal’ Brexit that could have “fundamental” implications for Gibraltar.
“Brexit mustn’t lead to any change in the rights and status of the people of Gibraltar, that we are clear about,” she told guests at the reception.
Ms Thornberry said she had seen for herself the importance of the border and the impact that any delays would have on people who cross it daily.
And she was clear too that Brexit could have no implication for the Rock’s British sovereignty.
“Any arrangement with the EU needs to protect a fluid border and guarantee economic security for the people of Gibraltar,” she said, adding: “Gibraltar is British and nothing can be done to compromise that sovereignty.”
Ms Thornberry was speaking against the backdrop of political upheaval following last week’s conference in Salzburg, which exposed the rift between the UK and the EU in the negotiations on withdrawal.
Yesterday the Labour Party said it would vote against any deal Prime Minister Theresa May strikes with the European Union if the agreement failed to meet its tests.
Labour has set six tests for supporting any Brexit deal and Mrs May might require support from opposition MPs to secure parliamentary backing for any agreement as some in her own Conservative Party have said they oppose her current proposals.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen next, because nobody has any idea what’s going to happen next, least of all the Prime Minister,” Ms Thornberry told the reception.
“How unfortunate it is that we have a political party in power whose only interest is fighting amongst themselves and looking after their own personal ambition, rather than raising their eyes and thinking about the good of country and places such as Gibraltar.”
“Their internal squabbling is completely undermining our country and could be of profound significance and extremely serious for a little place like Gibraltar, which relies on close relationships with Spain.”
Ms Thornberry said that the chances of a hard Brexit seemed to be “closer than ever before”, adding that if that happens, “we’re not going to vote for it”.
“We’re not going to vote for a deal that undermines the British economy,” she said.
“If they are incapable of governing and they have no idea what to do, it would be simply wrong and they would never be forgiven if Theresa May decided that she was going to stay in the front seat, hang on to the driving wheel and try and rive our country over a cliff.”
“It will not happen, we will not allow it, there must be a general election.”
Ms Thornberry had words of praise too for Gibraltarians, who she knew from experience would fight hard to defend their interests.
She described Chief Minister Fabian Picardo as “a lobbying machine” and added: “It should be of no surprise that there have been many positive noises coming from the socialist leadership, both of Gibraltar and of Spain, and I wish them all the best when it comes to their own agreements that they’re hoping to be able to make with Spain.”
“But if there is no agreement between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union, if we leave without a deal, than that will have a fundamental impact on Gibraltar.”
“The Labour party will stand with you and we’ll do everything that we can to protect you.”
Addressing guests at the reception, Mr Picardo said the last 27 months had shown him he could take nothing for granted in the Brexit process.
But he said he and his team would continue to work towards a positive outcome for Gibraltar despite the uncertainty surrounding the wider negotiations and UK politics.
“We’re not going back to a world where it is likely that frontiers will close between Gibraltar and Spain,” Mr Picardo said.
“But for Gibraltar, which voted by 96% to Remain, leaving the European project is something that our people definitely do not want to do.”
“We’re going to make the best of this moment.”
“It’s our obligation to look for positives, it’s our obligation to remain optimistic and to continue to attract business to Gibraltar.”
“But this is not the choice of the British people of Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo thanked the Labour politicians present who had helped Gibraltar over many years.
Among the guests were Glyn Ford and Clare Moody, the first and last UK MEPs to represent Gibraltar in the European Parliament.
Ms Moody told guests that it was a privilege to fight Gibraltar’s corner in Brussels and that she would continue to do so until the very last moment inside the bloc.
And Mr Picardo left clear that, despite Gibraltar’s beliefe in the European project as evidenced in the massive vote for Remain in the 2016 referendum, there was a more powerful sentiment at play, and that was Gibraltar’s desire to remain British.
“If there’s something that’s in our blood, if there are ties that are stronger for Gibraltar than the ties that made us part of the European project, it’s our ties to the United Kingdom,” he said.