Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have initiated discussions on how agreements on practical cooperation with Spain, reached as part of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations, might be salvaged even if the House of Commons rejects the deal in today’s crucial vote.
The agreements – on issues including frontier fluidity, the environment, law enforcement cooperation, tobacco and tax – are contained in a set of Memorandums of Understanding linked to the Gibraltar Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Gibraltar and the UK insist that without the Withdrawal Agreement, there is no Gibraltar Protocol or MoUs on practical cooperation between Gibraltar and Spain.
But last December, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the Gibraltar Parliament that his government was ready to explore ways of adapting the MoUs even if the divorce deal failed to survive the vote.
“Without a Withdrawal Agreement there is no protocol on Gibraltar,” he said at the time.
“Without a protocol on Gibraltar, there are no effective memoranda hanging off that.”
“But that is not to say…that in a no deal context we would not wish to consider with Spanish colleagues how to adapt arrangements to ensure we work to soften the blow of no deal for our respective citizens and continue to seek cooperation on the terms of the MoUs in those important policy areas.”
“We will start consideration of such matters in early January in meetings in London with UK and Spanish colleagues.”
“But we do not consider that it is accurate to say that the MoUs can automatically be considered to be in effect if there is no Withdrawal Agreement. The opposite is our legal view.”
Last night, in response to questions from this newspaper, a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place confirmed an initial meeting had been held in London last week with UK and Spanish officials.
But the spokesman would not be drawn on the detail of those discussions ahead of today’s landmark vote in the Commons.
The Gibraltar Government has described Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal as the best of the options currently on offer. That position has not changed, the spokesman said.
Separately, the Spanish Government’s cabinet last week also adopted a position on Gibraltar which stated that Madrid’s “intention” was that the practical arrangements should remain even in the event of a hard Brexit.
That position was voiced yesterday in Madrid by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who told a breakfast briefing organised by Europa Press that even in the case of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, agreements over Gibraltar would remain in place.
The Gibraltar Government believes that the Gibraltar Protocol and MoUs protect Gibraltar’s position as it leaves the EU, ensuring a smooth withdrawal for both individuals and businesses.
But the agreements have been criticised by the GSD, which insists they hand Spain a say in Gibraltar’s domestic affairs.
The government rejects that assessment.