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Borrell says sovereignty ‘is always on the table’, but loses temper in tetchy TV interview

Spain's new Foreign Minister Josep Borrell arrives for a taking over ceremony at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Madrid, Spain, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Gibraltar’s sovereignty is “always on the table” for Spain, despite the Spanish Government not having pressed the issue in the framework of the Brexit negotiations.

During a hard-hitting interview for Deutsche Welle’s Conflict Zone, Mr Borrell was also quizzed over the fairness of legal proceedings against Catalan’s pro-independence leaders, Spain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the country’s record on corruption.

The tetchy interview saw Mr Borrell repeatedly blast the interviewer - veteran broadcaster and ex-BBC man Tim Sebastian - for repeating the same “biased” questions.

The minister accused the journalist of being ill-informed and lying and, at one stage, walked off set before being persuaded by his aides to return and complete the interview.

As the interview came to an end, Mr Borrell said: “Thank you to you, but next time, I would appreciate if you put the questions in a less biased way.”

Mr Sebastian replied: “I'm not here just to give you the questions you want, minister.”

During the interview Mr Borrell was asked why Spain ‘bothers’ to press the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty, given that both Britain and Gibraltar insist it is not up for debate.

He replied by saying that for Spain, the question of Gibraltar’s sovereignty was on the table “all of the time”.

“For sure. It's on the table all the time. It will be all the time…” Mr Borrell said.

But he said although the Spanish Government had not used the Brexit process to reopen the question of sovereignty over Gibraltar, it would not drop the issue ‘forever’.

“We have said very clearly that we are not going to put the question of sovereignty on the table on the framework of the Brexit negotiations.”

“And we haven't done it, which doesn’t mean that we forget about the question of sovereignty forever.”

“We've reached five agreements with the British government about Gibraltar, which are part of the Withdrawal Treaty.”

“And in the future, we also agreed with European Commission that any agreement with United Kingdom with respect to Gibraltar will have to be under the control of the Spanish government.”

“That's all, nothing more than that. For sure, we keep the question of sovereignty, but it hasn't been put on the table with respect to the Brexit negotiation.”

When he was pushed on this point and reminded that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had raised sovereignty last November when the European Council approved the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the Spanish minister became increasingly defensive.

“And you don't know anything of what you are talking about,” he said at one point.

“We have been saying very clearly that we were not going to use the talks about Brexit to put on the table the question of sovereignty. Are you a liar, or are just not well-informed?”

Mr Sebastian countered: “And you didn't hear your Prime Minister say in November that the issue of shared sovereignty would be back on the table?”

“It will be back on the table, but not during the Brexit negotiations,” Mr Borrell replied.

“How ignorant you are. Incredible.”

On the subject of Spanish claims that Gibraltar has no territorial waters, Mr Borrell set out Spain’s position that the Rock has no territorial waters and dismissed any prospect of dialogue or taking the issue to international arbitration.

He said: “[The] International Court of Justice is not competent for these kind of questions.”

The full 30-minute interview can be viewed here.


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