– Basque leader says Spain must accept ‘Gibraltarians have their own voice’
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez defended Spain’s negotiation of the Gibraltar Protocol in the Spanish Parliament yesterday, insisting the political assurances received from other EU countries were “binding” even as opposition parties rubbished his claims.
During intense exchanges in the Congress, Mr Sanchez was lambasted by two extremes of criticism: at one end, he was told Spain had squandered an opportunity to impose its will and its sovereignty aspirations over Gibraltar; at the other, he was told Gibraltarians had the right to determine their own future and that their voice must be heard.
Mr Sanchez said the EU’s promise to Madrid of a veto over Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU “substantially strengthened” Spain’s position in respect of Gibraltar, even if the Brexit divorce deal foundered in the UK Parliament.
“If the UK does not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, the European Council’s declaration and that of the European Commission would still apply,” he said, adding: “They would not lapse.”
“As a result, we have defined the framework for the relations between the European Union and Gibraltar for the next decades and rest assured that those relations will have to go through Spain.”
But the Spanish Prime Minister was attacked from all sides on the opposition benches and accused of giving too much weight to political assurances that were not reflected in the legal text of the treaty itself.
Pablo Casado, the leader of the Partido Popular, said the Brexit agreement represented a “historical failure” and “an unprecedented humiliation” for Spain because the Spanish Government had failed to secure the inclusion of the veto in the legal text.
“We told you to incorporate it into the treaty, [because] letters are worthless, it’s about the treaty, it’s about the law,” Mr Casado said.
“If we’ve spent 300 years talking about treaties and United Nations resolutions, what use is a personal letter from the president of the European Council or from Mr [Tim] Barrow who will no longer even be [the UK ambassador] in Brussels?”
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera echoed the PP’s position and said Spain had “missed an opportunity”, attacking Mr Sanchez for travelling to Cuba to “meet a dictator” instead of being present in Brussels during the final days when the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed by EU members.
“You went to see the Cuban dictatorship, to walk around Havana while the possible co-sovereignty of Gibraltar was at play in Brussels,” he said.
Mr Rivera also agreed with the PP’s assessment that the commitments obtained by Spain from its EU partners were not binding.
“They are for the EU, but not for the UK, not for them,” he said.
“They’ve made that very clear, [the commitments] are binding for the EU but not for them, and that’s the problem.”
“I don’t trust those who have decided to leave the EU…and we had them at a crossroads and you have wasted that opportunity.”
Mr Rivera called on the Spanish Government to renegotiate its position on Gibraltar within the treaty should the Withdrawal Agreement be reopened to unlock the impasse in the UK Parliament over the Northern Ireland backstop.
Mr Sanchez was also lambasted by Aitor Esteban, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party, who said Spain’s grandstanding over the Brexit divorce deal and Gibraltar had prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to praise the negotiating skill of Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and to make clear in the House of Commons that nothing would be agreed without the consent of the UK and Gibraltar.
Mr Esteban told the Spanish Congress that the EU’s commitment to Spain was nothing new.
“Did anyone think that Europe was going to take any decision on Gibraltar that did not have Spain’s backing?” he asked.
“Has that ever happened before? Of course not. It goes without saying, given how Europe works.”
Mr Esteban added that even though Spain’s official position on Gibraltar remained unchanged, there was a need for dialogue with Gibraltarians “whose will must be heard”.
“It’s time you accept that the Gibraltarians have their own voice and that no agreement can be imposed on them, be it via London or Brussels,” he said.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias also intervened on Gibraltar and said Spain had achieved “some advances”, praising “a degree of firmness” in Madrid’s stance on Gibraltar.
But he said the issue of sovereignty should be centred on the protection of the interests of the people of the Campo de Gibraltar, not on flags.
“Historically the patriotic fervour of some of this country’s governments have only served for the people who work in the Campo de Gibraltar to be more dependent on the Rock and for those 13,000 citizens to be faced with poverty and uncertainty that should shame all of those so-called patriots,” he said.
“Patriotism, even if it’s hard for them to understand, is not about flags but about defending people.”
During his intervention, Mr Sanchez argued that the Spanish Government’s “absolute priority” in respect of Brexit and Gibraltar was to offer “security and calm” to communities in the Campo de Gibraltar.
And he insisted repeatedly that Spain’s response to Brexit in no way impacted its longstanding aspirations in respect of the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
“But we can’t fall into the temptation of mortgaging the present, nor can we project uncertainty onto the lives of thousands of people who live and work in the area,” he said.
He said Spain’s sovereignty goals were “perfectly compatible” with the search for “…all sorts of agreements, be they economic, social, financial, fiscal, or military within the framework of the Atlantic alliance, to avoid the population having to suffer the consequences of ‘no deal’.”
MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Susana Vera