Gibraltar will not allow itself to be pushed into a bad withdrawal deal as Brexit negotiations enter the final stage, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo warned last night, adding: “We are not going to blink.”
Addressing the annual dinner of the Gibraltar Society of Accountants, Mr Picardo said he remained optimistic that a good agreement could be reached for Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future, adding this would benefit communities on both sides of the border.
But in combative terms, he said his government would not be pressured into accepting a deal that in any way undermined the Rock’s long-established red lines on sovereignty.
“I wanted to be here tonight to tell you that I remain very confident that Gibraltar will be part of the UK – EU Withdrawal Agreement,” he said.
“That is, so long as no one thinks that at the last minute we are going to be pushed to accept things which will not be good for Gibraltar.”
“We are not going to blink at five minutes to midnight.”
“And that is why we continue to plan for no-deal as much as we are working towards a deal.”
Although he did not go into an detail on the substance of the ongoing discussions, the Chief Minister’s words offered a glimpse into the intensity of ongoing negotiations as the Brexit deadline looms.
As the UK and the EU face off in the broader withdrawal talks on thorny issues such as the Northern Ireland border, it was evident from Mr Picardo’s sentiment on Thursday night that similar pressures existed within the context of discussions about how Gibraltar fits into the wider deal.
Mr Picardo said Brexit would have an impact that would “reverberate through the generations”, whether the outcome of the negotiations was positive or negative.
“Most of you here will have children, or maybe even grandchildren,” he said.
“So you will understand when I tell you that I will not do the wrong deal for Gibraltar and its future generations.”
“You will understand when I tell you that I will not sell the wrong deal for Gibraltar.”
“A deal that is constitutionally retrograde for Gibraltar would not be a good deal for Gibraltar.”
“A deal that contains hidden sovereignty time bombs would not be a good deal for Gibraltar.”
This evening I addressed the #Gibraltar Society of Accountants Annual Dinner. I expressed optimism that a good #Brexit deal for #Gibraltar is within reach. I also made clear I would neither do or sell a bad deal for #Gibraltar. #NoDeal better than a #BadDeal. pic.twitter.com/3GCrrpRAy4
— Fabian Picardo (@FabianPicardo) October 4, 2018
The Chief Minister also sent a clear message to Spain’s Partido Popular, whose senior MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons this week told the European Parliament that any Brexit deal on Gibraltar should include a commitment from the UK to enter into bilateral sovereignty negotiations with Spain.
“There will not be any aspect of any deal that will contain any timetable for any discussion of sovereignty, because there will not be any discussion of sovereignty,” Mr Picardo said, adding that this also meant “the key ingredients” of jurisdiction and control.
“That applies as much today to the current negotiations on withdrawal as it will tomorrow to any negotiation about the future relationship.”
Despite his firm statement on Gibraltar’s unshakeable position on sovereignty, Mr Picardo echoed earlier positive sentiment about the Brexit talks.
For weeks, the Chief Minister has signalled his belief that an agreement is possible for Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future, a deal that paves the way for better cross-border cooperation while respecting red lines and core positions.
That sentiment has largely been echoed in London and Madrid too, including in public statements by prime ministers Theresa May and Pedro Sanchez.
On Thursday, Mr Picardo repeated that message and said there was “a clear vision” and “a clear ambition” to deliver “a Brexit dividend” to the region as a whole.
“A good deal for Gibraltar is also a good deal for the Campo de Gibraltar,” he said.
“We believe that there is reason for optimism.”
Mr Picardo said that there were already past agreements in place, not least the Cordoba Agreement on the airport, that “we can fall back on”.
But he left no doubt that Gibraltar would not sign up to a deal that in any way weakened its core position on sovereignty, either now or in the future.
Echoing the stance of the UK Government in respect of the wider Brexit negotiations, he said: “No deal is better than a bad deal, and if that is true for the United Kingdom, then it is certainly true for Gibraltar.”
He said Gibraltar had rejected the 1987 airport deal and the 2002 joint sovereignty deal, adding: “We know how to say no when we have to.”
“And what we cannot allow is even the thought that there may be ‘cherry picking’ to be done in respect of the Cordoba arrangements.”
That last comment was a reference to recent reports suggesting Spain was preparing to reopen its Instituto Cervantes in Gibraltar.
But Mr Picardo said there was no prospect of that happening unless Spain honoured the rest of the Cordoba arrangements.
“It wouldn’t make sense,” he said.
The Chief Minister underscored his belief that a bad deal for Gibraltar would be equally negative for the Campo de Gibraltar.
He urged the Partido Popular “patriots” in Madrid to follow the lead of the party’s last Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, and set aside sovereignty within the context of Brexit.
And he praised Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who he said had set out a “clear and laudable” position that sought an agreement to create opportunities for the people of the Campo and Gibraltar.
“Those are the clear instructions from the top in Spain to their negotiating team,” he said.