The Gibraltar Government last night slammed a Partido Popular MEP for adopting an “absolutely disgraceful” hardline stance on Gibraltar and Brexit during a debate in the European Parliament yesterday.
In his intervention, Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons used language harking back to the period of former PP foreign minister Jose Manuel García-Margallo and his abrasive views on Gibraltar.
In terms that were as provocative as they were baseless and defamatory of this community, Mr Gonzalez Pons described Gibraltar as “a tax haven” that was home to money launderers, tax avoiders and smugglers, as well as a source of “toxic spills” that damaged the environment.
Addressing a plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg, the Spanish MEP said the PP believed the Brexit agreement should include a timetable for the resumption of bilateral sovereignty negotiations between the UK and Spain.
“The UK is leaving, Spain is staying with friends,” he said.
“We won’t find a better opportunity to resolve the shameful situation of the last colony in Europe.”
In his intervention, Mr Gonzalez Pons ignored the fact that soon after Sr García-Margallo was dropped by former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in 2016, his successor, the career diplomat Alfonso Dastis, had made clear Spain would not use Brexit to pursue sovereignty.
Instead, the PP government opened a process of dialogue with the UK and Gibraltar to mitigate the impact of Brexit on communities on both sides of the border, a stance continued by Pedro Sánchez when his Socialist government ousted the PP and took office earlier this year.
The MEP’s comments yesterday, however, suggest that under the new leadership of Pablo Casado, the PP appears to be winding back the clock on its position on Gibraltar and Brexit, and in the process ignoring its position over the past 18 months.
Mr Gonzalez Pons was not challenged on his statement during the parliamentary session, even though there were Gibraltar’s MEPs present. The Gibraltar Government, however, hit back hard.
“Mr Pons gives the impression of having been educated in the General Franco school of politics when it comes to his views on Gibraltar,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“He clearly has absolutely no understanding of the situation and the reality of modern Gibraltar itself.”
“It is quite incredible that someone who has been elected to the European Parliament should show such scant regard for democracy or human rights.”
“He should understand that under international law, the people of Gibraltar have the right to self-determination and his opinion cannot change that.”
“Gibraltar voted by 99% to remain British in 1967 and we voted 98% to reject any form of shared sovereignty with Spain in 2002. Mr Pons should respect that democratic choice.”
The Gibraltar Government also noted that the Spanish MEP’s comments were “out of step” with those of his own party in government.
It reminded Mr Gonzalez Pons that it was the PP that “rightly” set aside the question of sovereignty from the negotiations to leave the European Union.
Not only that, No.6 said, it was also the PP government that started the engagement directly with the Government of Gibraltar in order to address issues arising from Brexit.
“It is not surprising, given his track record in the past, that Mr Gonzalez Pons should make a series of unfounded, wild allegations against Gibraltar in almost every conceivable area from financial services to the environment,” No.6 said in the statement.
“These are completely untrue and nothing more than a smokescreen designed to give credence to his extremist right-wing views on this issue.”
“He does not care about the principle of consent or the democratic choice of the people of Gibraltar.”
“All he cares about is his Quixotic attempt to tilt at Gibraltar’s sovereignty as if it were the windmill in Cervantes’ novel of a knight who, like Mr Pons, had seen better days and needed to hang up his suit of armour.”
“In this day and age the wishes of people must come first.”