– UK’s positon on sovereignty ‘has not changed and will not change’.
David Lidington, the de facto deputy Prime Minister of the UK, said on Friday “we are almost there” on reaching a deal that addressed the practical implications of Brexit for Gibraltar.
Addressing a breakfast forum in Madrid, Mr Lidington sketched out the progress on talks about Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future and its place within the wider negotiations on withdrawal and transition.
“We have been working closely with the Government of Gibraltar, and with European partners including Spain, to address the practical implications of Brexit for Gibraltar, and, just as importantly, for the surrounding region, including the 8,000 Spanish people who cross the border each day to work,” Mr Lidington told the Nueva Economia Forum.
“These discussions are necessarily detailed and complex, and yes at times they are also challenging, but beginning with the previous PP Government and continuing with the current PSOE Government, we are engaging constructively and seriously.”
“We have been clear from the outset that our main objective is to work to enhance the shared prosperity and security of Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.”
“The UK and Gibraltar remain committed to that aim and we are making progress.”
Mr Lidington was speaking after meetings with Spanish officials including deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo on UK/Spain issues arising from Brexit.
Among the guests at the breakfast briefing was Marco Aguiriano, the state secretary for Europe at the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who suggested the negotiations “between the Foreign office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs” were “95%” settled.
He asked Mr Lidington for his views on the prospect of an agreement.
“I think it is possible but I am not going to write an announcement date into the calendar at the moment,” Mr Lidington replied.
“We need to close the gap on the remaining areas, but I think I agree with what the state secretary said, that we are almost there and there has been good, very constructive, pragmatic work between our officials, Spanish officials and people from the Gibraltar Government as well have been involved.”
“So I am optimistic that we will get there but just as I am optimistic that we will get there on the Article 50 Withdrawal Agreement as a whole.”
Mr Lidington was also asked by a journalist in the audience as to whether a discussion on sovereignty or joint sovereignty was possible within the context of Brexit.
Mr Lidington, who has deep knowledge of Gibraltar issues having worked closely with the Gibraltar Government in his former role as Minister for Europe, was unequivocal in his response.
“The reality is this: the UK and Spain have very clear and very different positions on sovereignty,” he replied.
“That is a reality and is not going to change.”
“The UK’s positon on sovereignty has not changed and will not change.”
Mr Lidington added: “We have to deal with the Brexit issues as a practical bit of work in determining how we establish new arrangements which enable people to continue to earn their living, particularly people in Andalucía who travel to work in Gibraltar every day.”
“I think it’s something like between eight and 10,000 Spanish citizens who do that, and it seems to me there’s an economic interest for citizens in Gibraltar, La Línea and Algeciras to benefit from economic growth on both sides of that border.”
“So, that is how we are approaching those negotiations.”