By Brian Reyes in London
Spain’s “posturing” over the Brexit divorce deal has provided Gibraltar with “a better and stronger” opportunity to ensure it is included in any future trade deal between the EU and the UK, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told a gathering of international journalists on Monday night.
Spain had tried to change the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement because it feared it included Gibraltar within the scope of the future relationship without giving Madrid a decisive voice.
But the Spanish Government had failed in its efforts to amend the treaty text and had to settle for two political declarations with no legal validity.
Non only that, the UK had responded to Spain’s last-minute brinksmanship with an explicit statement of its intention to negotiate for the entire UK family including Gibraltar.
“Having failed to achieve a change to the proposed Withdrawal Agreement text, Spain has therefore, in effect, now landed itself with a public interpretation it cannot get out of, that Gibraltar is covered by the text,” Mr Picardo said.
“Ironically, the actions of the Spanish Government in the past week have managed to unite some pretty strange bedfellows in our interpretation of the final position.”
“Spain’s Opposition Partido Popular and Ciudadanos and their leaders Sr Casado and Sr Rivera, respectively, and former Spanish Foreign Minster, Sr Margallo and the former Prime Minster Sr Aznar, interpret the effect of the declarations made in light of the express terms of the treaty in the same way as the Government of Gibraltar.”
“Quite an unexpected alliance of interpretation.”
And he added: “So thanks to the Spanish posturing of the past week, we are now armed with a better and stronger opportunity to enforce our inclusion in future trade arrangements than we might have been.”
Mr Picardo was addressing the annual awards dinner of the Foreign Press Association, which brings together UK-based correspondents from all the world’s main media outlets.
The Gibraltar Government is one of the sponsors of the event and the Chief Minister presented the award for TV News Story of the Year to the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville for a piece ni Islamic State fighters escaping from Raqqa in Syria.
Mr Picardo was addressing the dinner after several days of intense political activity related to Brexit during which Gibraltar had been “…thrust forward into a prominence we did not seek.”
He said many of the reports in the wake of the Brexit summit that approved the divorce deal had failed to reflect the complexities surrounding the discussions on Gibraltar.
“The lesson therefore for those reporting on Gibraltar matters is to ensure that what is said by some in Spain in respect of Gibraltar should be treated with a pinch of salt,” he said.
Mr Picardo acknowledged Prime Minister Theresa May’s “real, unbending steel in defence”of the UK’s commitments to Gibraltar.
And he urged guests at the dinner to handle with caution the criticism of the divorce deal and its effect on Gibraltar.
“Let’s not allow any electoral hyperbole in Spain persuade anyone that Gibraltar has in any way been let down by the Prime Minister,” he said.
“And, similarly, let’s not allow any campaigning in London persuade anyone that Gibraltar has in any way got anything to fear from this Withdrawal Agreement.”
“I call on all parties in the United Kingdom to respect the views of the Government and people of Gibraltar of the effect of the Withdrawal Agreement on Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo acknowledged that any future trade deal between the UK and the EU required the unanimity of all the EU members exposed Gibraltar to “jeopardy”, given Spain’s position on the Rock and the EU political solidarity with Madrid.
But he said this risk arose from the existing treaties, not out of anything secured by Spain as part of the Brexit negotiations to date.
“That is the danger that leaving the EU makes a reality,” he said. “That is the jeopardy to which those who have argued for Brexit have exposed Gibraltar.”
The Chief Minister said Gibraltar’s inclusion in the Withdrawal Agreement and the transitional arrangements would nonetheless ensure “a soft landing” for Gibraltar’s departure from the EU.
And despite the political noise of the past few days, Mr Picardo left no doubt about Gibraltar’s ongoing commitment to dialogue with Spain, sketching out the social, cultural and economic ties between Gibraltar and its Spanish hinterland.
“The human, geographic and political reality is that we want to engage with Spain in an open, reasonable and positive process of dialogue about future cooperation,” he said.
“Mighty Spain doesn’t need a legal veto – which she doesn’t have – to bring tiny Gibraltar to the negotiating table.”
“We are already there, and we will talk about everything.” “But not about sovereignty.”
Among the guests at the dinner was Sir Alan Duncan, the UK’s Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a key figure in the negotiations about Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future.
Addressing the dinner, Sir Alan praised the Chief Minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations to date, saying “he really has shown consummate statesmanship and courage”.
“Courage is a rare quality in politics,” Sir Alan said.
“Without him, the progress which the whole of the UK family made yesterday [when the divorce deal was approved by the EU] could not have happened.”
“And we’ve emerged stronger and more united than ever before.”
And he added: “The UK’s commitment to Gibraltar’s British sovereignty is absolute.”
Sir Alan said he was “sorry” that some Conservative MPs had suggested the UK sovereignty commitment to Gibraltar had been undermined by the divorce deal.
“This is totally untrue,” he said.
He urged the UK to back Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
“Leaving the EU means keeping the same friends, but with different structures,” he said.
“We are part of the same world and we intend to play our full role in it.”