The UK and the European Union are “very close” to a Brexit agreement that is “likely” to benefit Gibraltar and its neighbouring region, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday ahead of the Rock’s last National Day as a member of the EU.
As parliamentarians from the UK arrived in Gibraltar for Monday’s celebrations, Mr Picardo said he remained confident the UK and EU would reach an agreement that would benefit their respective citizens, including Gibraltarians.
“I sincerely believe that despite the politics that we sometimes see played out on our television screen, the UK and the EU are very close to an agreement that will provide for both sides a much better opportunity to see their respective citizens prosper and progress after Brexit and that that is likely to be able to include and benefit Gibraltar and the region,” he told the Chronicle in an interview.
Mr Picardo also underscored the “hand in glove relationship” between the government of Gibraltar and the UK not just within the Brexit process, but in other areas too.
“It is closer than I imagine any Gibraltar government and UK government have ever worked,” he said.
He was speaking as a delegation of 32 British politicians arrived in Gibraltar for a working visit and to participate in National Day.
The delegation includes members of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament, and includes representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, the UUP, the DUP and crossbench peers.
It includes senior figures including Arlene Foster, the DUP Leader who will be in Gibraltar for the first time and who was First Minister of Norther Ireland until the power-sharing agreement came to an end.
The wide representation from across the political spectrum in Westminster reflects the staunch support that Gibraltar enjoys in the United Kingdom and the intense work carried out by the Gibraltar Government and its offices in London and Brussels. It also shows the high level of interest that exists in Gibraltar issues ahead of Brexit.
Mr Picardo told the Chronicle that a key element of the ongoing work was “…to ensure that the United Kingdom understands the nuances of Gibraltar so that any application to Gibraltar of any future UK/EU deal takes into consideration those Gibraltarian nuances.”
The Chief Minister declined to be drawn on the ongoing “discrete discussions” between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar on the Rock’s post-Brexit relationship with Spain and the wider EU, which have been under way since last January.
But he insisted there was common ground between all three sides and that the talks were “progressing well”, particularly on the critical issue of maintaining border fluidity.
“There are certain fluidity rights that we want to see preserved at the crossing points in Gibraltar and Spain into Europe,” he said.
“There are some things that we all want to see we ensure are not in any way changed, such as the rights of people to come into Gibraltar whether to work or to access us for tourism, to visit relatives, to shop, and the rights of Gibraltarians to access Europe through Spain, some to work, some to enjoy tourism in the hinterland, shop or live.”
“I think it is in the interests of the government of the Kingdom of Spain and the Government of Gibraltar, and to a very great extent the Government of the United Kingdom also, that an understanding is reached between Spain and Gibraltar about the day-to-day ability of Gibraltarians to be able to fluidly access Spain, and of European citizens to be able to access Gibraltar through the crossing point in Spain.”
“And I think we’re all alive to the need to have such an arrangement.”
Even in the event of a cliff-edge ‘no deal’ exit from the bloc, he said “…Gibraltar does not have to stop EU citizens from accessing Gibraltar the day after Brexit, and neither does Spain have to stop Gibraltarians from accessing the EU the day after Brexit.”
Between today and Monday, the visiting MPs will be briefed by Mr Picardo and deputy Chief Minister and Brexit Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, on the latest developments in respect of Gibraltar and the withdrawal.
The briefing this morning will take place at Gibraltar International Airport and will include a visit to the terminal and the frontier area, giving the visitors a detailed, first-hand insight into the issues.
“The Government is delighted to see the level of interest that continues to exist among parliamentarians on Gibraltar issues,” DR Garcia said.
“This is all the more important this National Day as we prepare to leave the European Union.”
“It is essential that we keep UK politicians up to date on the progress of different issues throughout the year. National Day provides the invaluable opportunity for us to do this to a number of them at the same time.”
The visiting parliamentarians will also be present on Monday to witness Sir Joe Bossano receiving the Freedom of the City after a lifetime of public service to this community.
Yesterday, Mr Picardo said the public recognition of Sir Joe’s contribution to Gibraltar would add further significance to the events this year, which marks the 25th National Day since it became an official public holiday.
“I think one of the highlights for me this year of National Day will be that the man who was Chief Minister when we started the process of celebrating our identity, who embraced it and really took Gibraltar back to the United Nations, will have the Freedom of the City bestowed on him on that day as part of the celebrations,” the Chief Minister said.
“I think that’s hugely significant for us as a nation and for me, I think it’s going to be the highlight of our day.”
“If I may say so, I think even Sir Joe Bossano is going to enjoy it a lot this year.”