The final detail of a deal to include Gibraltar in the UK’s withdrawal agreement and transitional arrangements was being hammered out in crunch talks in Brussels last night.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo flew to Brussels yesterday morning to lead the Gibraltar delegation in the final round of negotiations between the UK and the EU on a specific Protocol for Gibraltar in the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement. There will be similar protocols on Northern Ireland and on the UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.
Although a final agreement had yet to be reached as this edition went to press, all the indications were that consensus on Gibraltar’s inclusion in the wider Brexit deal could be secured as early as today.
The Protocol on Gibraltar will be between the UK and the EU because under the 2006 Constitution, the UK remains responsible for entering any international agreements on behalf of Gibraltar.
But the Withdrawal Agreement will reflect Gibraltar’s constitutional relationship with the UK and, in that context, the definition of the term United Kingdom in the agreement includes Gibraltar, the Gibraltar Government said.
It has also been made clear that the practical implementation of the benefits and obligations of such agreements can only rest with the Gibraltar Government.
“The Government of Gibraltar has been, and continues to be, fully involved in the negotiations,” said No.6 Convent Place in a statement.
“The position as articulated for the United Kingdom remains the same for Gibraltar. No deal is better than a bad deal.”
According to No.6 Convent Place, the recourse mechanism for the UK-EU Agreement, if agreed, will be a joint committee between the UK and the EU overseeing separate specialised committees covering areas like Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and Cyprus.
“There will be a set of practical measures spelt out in separate arrangements with Spain covering tax cooperation, police and customs cooperation, the environment, citizens’ rights and tobacco,” No.6 Convent Place said in the statement.
“These will be time limited, where necessary, to the end of the transition period which is December 2020.”
“In keeping with the UK-EU structure, the proposed plan is for a number of coordinating committees to cover some of these topic areas and to report up the chain to the main UK-EU committee.”
“It is important to bear in mind that the discussions on Gibraltar are part of the wider negotiations for the UK to exit the European Union and they play out against this broader background.”
“The Government of Gibraltar, in the meantime, continues to prepare for all eventualities including the possibility of a no deal Brexit.”
The latest developments come after an intense week of meetings in London and Brussels.
The Chief Minister flew from London to Brussels last Wednesday and was joined there by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, who flew in from New York after addressing the UN Fourth Committee on decolonisation.
Both flew back to Gibraltar on Friday evening and back again to Brussels on this morning.
The Attorney General, Michael Llamas, has been permanently based in Brussels for the last two weeks. TheFinancial Secretary Albert Mena is also part of the team and has been involved in many of the meetings.
On Saturday, the Gibraltar Government’s cabinet held an extraordinary session in No.6 Convent Place during which minister were updated on the negotiations.
After that meeting Opposition MPs Daniel Feetham and Trevor Hammond, who both sit on the Brexit Select Committee, were also briefed.
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who also sits on that parliamentary committee, was away from Gibraltar and was unable to attend.
The latest developments on Gibraltar came as Theresa May faces open revolt from Tory Eurosceptics and questions about her ability to deliver Brexit as a crunch European Union summit looms.
As negotiations for the wider Withdrawal Agreement continued in Brussels ahead of a summit starting on Wednesday, UK Cabinet ministers were urged to speak out against her plans and potentially quit in protest at any deal which could see the UK indefinitely tied in to the EU’s customs union.
British and European Union negotiators this month accelerated the push for a Brexit deal but talks remain snagged over the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Without a comprehensive EU-UK trade partnership after Brexit, the EU is seeking a “backstop” arrangement whereby Northern Ireland would effectively remain subject to the bloc’s regulations to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.