Jose Manuel García-Margallo, the Partido Popular’s controversial former Foreign Minister, faced a blunt reminder yesterday about the outcome of his hardline policies on Gibraltar: “When you were minister, you achieved nothing.”
The stern message came from Josep Borrell, Spain’s current Socialist Foreign Minister, during an exchange on Gibraltar in the Spanish Parliament.
Mr Borrell, answering a question tabled by Mr García-Margallo, faced criticism from the PP MP who said the PSOE government led by Pedro Sánchez was wasting “the golden opportunity” presented by Brexit to push Spain’s sovereignty aspirations over the Rock.
“The only thing you haven’t done is what you should have done, which is make the best of this occasion to move forward with aspirations that no Spanish Government since 1713 has failed to pursue,” Mr García-Margallo said.
He repeated his view that Spain should pursue a joint sovereignty proposal he tabled two years ago – and which Gibraltar robustly rejected.
But Mr Borrell hit back and said the PSOE administration was continuing the Brexit strategy set by Alfonso Dastis, the career diplomat who took over at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs after Mr García-Margallo was dropped at the end of 2016 by the then PP Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.
Mr Dastis had made clear that Spain would not use Brexit to pursue a sovereignty agenda and would instead focus on pragmatic solutions to mitigate the impact on people of the UK and Gibraltar’s withdrawal from the EU.
“If the PP has made a 180-degree change in its position, then it should start by recognising this,” Mr Borell said.
Reflecting on Mr García-Margallo’s criticism, he added: “Did you explain all that to you successor Mr Dastis? Because the policy and negotiating strategy that this government is pursuing on Gibraltar, is the same as the one followed by [Mr Dastis]… and even the negotiating team is exactly the same.”
Mr Borrell said “an agreement in principle” had been reached on the Gibraltar protocol that will form part of the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement, if and when that deal is finally agreed.
He echoed earlier statements that other practical aspects of the relation between Gibraltar and Spain after Brexit were being negotiated as separate memorandums.
Mr Borrell said the current talks were focused on how the Withdrawal Agreement would be applied to Gibraltar.
“We are interested in an orderly exit, and we are worried above all about the rights of workers,” he said.
“After this, there will be a period during which we negotiate a future relationship, and at that point we will have the chance and the time to table many of the issues that you are raising.”
“But don’t reprimand me for following the same policy over which you were dropped from government.”
There were references to Gibraltar too in the UK Parliament yesterday.
In the House of Commons, junior Brexit minister Robin Walker responded to a question from Labour MP Liz McInness asking if he would table in parliament a copy of the Gibraltar protocol and the associated memorandums.
Mr Walker said the protocol would form part of the Withdrawal Agreement and that this would be tabled once the negotiations were concluded.
“We expect to make the Memoranda available in due course once negotiations on the overall agreement between the United Kingdom, the Government of Gibraltar and Spain are complete,” he added.
In a separate question on Gibraltar, Chris Heaton-Harris, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, also referred to the protocol and underlying memorandums, as well as the Rock’s position in talks about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
“As set out in our White Paper, we will be seeking a future relationship for Gibraltar which appropriately reflects the particular characteristics and needs of the area, taking account of Gibraltar’s deep existing relationship with the EU,” he said.