The Spanish Government hopes to reach agreement on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with Spain and the EU by October against the backdrop of the UK’s wider withdrawal negotiations, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said today.
Mr Sanchez was speaking after an informal meeting of EU heads of government in the Austrian city of Salzburg and said the PSOE was maintaining the same negotiating position on Gibraltar adopted by the previous Partido Popular administration.
“On the issue of Gibraltar, our focus is absolutely that of a matter of state and we hope to reach agreement with the United Kingdom in October,” he said.
“As such there is one dimension, which is the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and another, more specific bilateral dimension, which is Spain with Gibraltar.”
Almost in tandem as Mr Sanchez was addressing reporters in Austria, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was making a statement to the Gibraltar Parliament outlining the latest developments in the Brexit process.
Mr Picardo, referring to the “ongoing discrete contact” that the Gibraltar Government has been engaged in with the UK and EU members including Spain, said he remained confident that the withdrawal agreement “will fully apply” to Gibraltar.
“That means that any mechanisms agreed between the UK and the EU for orderly withdrawal and continued market access will fully cover Gibraltar and that we will enjoy continued access to the EU Single Market until at least the end of the transition period,” he said.
The Chief Minister referred to public statements in which Spanish ministers acknowledged contact not just with the UK but with Gibraltar too.
He gave solid assurances to Parliament that Gibraltar’s red lines were being upheld, adding that neither the PP nor the PSOE administrations had sought to advance Spain’s “sterile claim” within the context of the Brexit talks.
Had they tried to do so, he added, “…everyone knows that the answer from us, on behalf of the whole House and Gibraltar as a whole, would have been firm, clear and absolutely negative.”
He said Gibraltar had remained alert not just to overt attempts to make sovereignty gains, but to the “ingredients of sovereignty” including jurisdiction and control, adding that Spain understood that these were not negotiable.
He was clear, however, that Gibraltar remained open to constructive dialogue with Spain as long as those sovereignty boundaries were respected.
“Successive Governments of Gibraltar have sought such a relationship,” he said.
“And we have done so without the need for any compulsion or threats of veto.”
“We have done so because the people of Gibraltar have consistently sought good neighbourly relations and we have consistently sought to demonstrate our belief in the European ideals.”
“That has always been our nature and that is the work that we have been trying to discretely do.”
Mr Picardo said the discussions had considered matters related to the “unlawful suspension” of Gibraltar Airport from the European Civil Aviation rules despite the Cordoba Agreement of 2006 and the £84m airport built by the former GSD administration as part of that deal.
He said the talks had also considered Gibraltar’s removal from Spanish tax haven blacklists and better cooperation between tax authorities in both countries, as Gibraltar had been proposing for years under successive governments.
The discussions have also looked at better traffic flow at the border and cooperation on police and customs matters, including curbing cross-frontier smuggling in both directions.
He also flagged discussions on better environmental cooperation, especially in relation to air quality and the protection of the environment in the region of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.
“As to the substance of the discussions, it is fair to say that we are not dissatisfied with progress,” Mr Picardo said, adding: “There is a long road still to go.”
“But, like the Spanish Prime Minister is reported to have told the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Mr [Michel] Barnier, we too hope that matters related to Gibraltar might be the first element of the withdrawal agreement and the future arrangements to be agreed in a positive spirit of cooperation between the UK and the EU, and between Gibraltar and the Member State that is our closest neighbour, Spain.”
Speaking in Salzburg Mr Sanchez outlined the same areas of discussion, although he couched the references in different language and said Spain’s main focus was on protecting the rights of citizens and unlocking the region’s economic potential.
“We have to find agreement in something that is fundamental for the Government of Spain and that is citizens’ rights, whether they are in Gibraltar or living in the Campo de Gibraltar,” Mr Sanchez said.
“And finally, Gibraltar’s commitment to the socio-economic development of the Campo de Gibraltar is important to us.”
During the exchanges in Parliament, Mr Picardo said the Brexit Select Committee would hold its twelfth meeting today, adding the Opposition MPs had been briefed confidentially on the “ongoing discrete contact” that the Gibraltar Government has been engaged in within the context of the Brexit discussions, including with Spain.
Speaking for the GSD, Opposition MP Daniel Feetham wished the government “God speed” as it sought to “navigate a minefield and successfully come back with an agreement for Gibraltar”.
Mr Feetham acknowledged that the Opposition had been “fully briefed” on the discussions that the Gibraltar Government has for months been engaged in, although “by necessity” the GSD would reserve its judgement until the outcome was clear.
He repeated his party’s position that bilateralism between the UK and Spain on Gibraltar “was out of the question”, adding that the Chief Minister’s assurances of Gibraltar’s close involvement in the process was “music to our ears”.
“The government is absolutely right to engage with Spain directly in relation to these talks,” he said, adding that he accepted Mr Picardo’s assurances – and supported the position – that neither sovereignty, jurisdiction nor control were “on the line” in the discussions.
“What the UK is negotiating with the EU may well be apposite to the UK but may not be apposite in respect of Gibraltar, and it is right that the government should engage directly with Spain in order to attempt to reach the best possible solution and deal for Gibraltar,” he said.
Mr Feetham also set out his view that for Spain to pursue sovereignty aims that will never be acceptable to the Gibraltar Government or to the Gibraltarians “is to effectively condemn the process to no agreement at all”.
“Ultimately, all it will do is to push Gibraltar towards seeking greater political links with the United Kingdom, and that is not in Spain’s interest,” he said.
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon also spoke during the session and acknowledged the government’s work on Brexit.
“They are doing the best job that they possibly can and right now is not the time for political point scoring, divisions or trying to get one over anyone,” she said.
“We are all in this together.”
“There may come a time to nit-pick over the government’s performance on Brexit, but right now I think we all need to focus our energies together, try to be constructive and support the government for a future which we all want to work out for every single one of us.”
Main photo: Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister and Michel Barnier, Brexit EU Chief Negotiator, in Salzburg on Thursday. Pic: EU