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Opinion & Analysis

A frantic week in politics

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Mariano Rajoy’s decision to sack his Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, is welcome news not just for Gibraltar but for the UK and Spain too.

García-Margallo’s approach to Gibraltar and the wider Brexit challenge lacked subtlety. It was a black and white strategy laced with a threat: accept joint sovereignty or face a cold future outside the EU. But it was a strategy that ignored the reality of Gibraltar and the resolute nature of the Gibraltarians’ wish to remain British. It also ignored Britain’s unflinching commitment on sovereignty.

In the face of a complex challenge such as Brexit, and given the deep economic, social and cultural links between the UK and Spain - and between Gibraltar and the Campo - a more nuanced approach is required. On Wednesday in the Spanish Parliament, all the main political groups were agreed on this. The motion approved by the Foreign Affairs Commission in the Spanish Congress recorded no support for García-Margallo’s still-born joint sovereignty proposal. While upholding Spain’s claim over Gibraltar, the text focused on the need for consensus, for dialogue, for cooperation. There was even support for Gibraltar’s right to self-determination from Unidos Podemos, which will play an important opposition role in Spain’s new political terrain.

Time will tell how all of this will unfold, but it is difficult to envisage how a new Foreign Minister in Madrid could make a worse job of it than García-Margallo. His time in office has served only strengthen Gibraltar’s resolve. His was a bitter, obsessive approach that ignored the reality on the ground, the strong social, sporting and cultural links that continue despite the negativity in Madrid.

Now, as a new minister takes office in the Palacio de Santa Cruz, Gibraltar must remain firm in its position on sovereignty and must not drop its guard.  But as ever, we must also remain open to constructive dialogue that respects red lines on sovereignty.

The developments in Spain come at the end of frantic week of political news of massive importance to the Rock. 

In London on Monday, the British Government confirmed its intention to maintain market access between the UK and Gibraltar. The announcement will go a long way to easing concerns in the financial services sector, although some had hoped for a more unequivocal statement from London.  It is important though to look at what was said in the wider context of Britain’s other commitments to Gibraltar, not least its double-lock pledge on sovereignty. As Albert Isola, the Financial Services Minister, told guests at a breakfast briefing on Tuesday, the support from the UK “is nothing short of exceptional”.

And as if all of that was not enough, the High Court yesterday ruled that the British Parliament must have its say before Prime Minister Theresa May can trigger Article 50 and start the process for withdrawal from the EU. The court ruling, which will be appealed, could potentially mean months of parliamentary hurdles. In theory, parliament could block Brexit altogether, though few people expect that outcome given the result of the June referendum.

May insists she still plans to trigger Article 50 by March and it remains to be seen how events unfold in the weeks ahead.

But one thing is clear: both in Spain and on Brexit, the landscape has shifted dramatically once again.