Brexit challenge offers ‘watershed’ opportunity for positive relations with Spain, Picardo says
Brexit could provide a “watershed” moment for Gibraltar’s relations with Spain, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said last night as he vowed to defend the Rock’s British sovereignty while promoting “good neighbourly relations and regional prosperity”.
Speaking in a ministerial broadcast on GBC, Mr Picardo made clear that Gibraltar would never accept any proposal that diluted the Rock’s British sovereignty in any way, adding his government would protect this community’s interests “at every turn”.
But he insisted Gibraltar would also seek a constructive post-Brexit relationship with the EU and in particular with Spain despite the challenges of leaving the EU.
“We will do this despite Clause 24 of the EU guidelines, not because of it,” he said, referring to Spain’s controversial Gibraltar veto.
“We will continue to offer to build good neighbourly relations and deliver regional prosperity, not because we feel threatened, but because that is our nature.”
“And we will continue to seek to construct new synergies for the future and avoid unnecessary confrontation because it has always been our approach.”
Mr Picardo said Gibraltar had always sought a positive relationship with Spain, “although we have too often been rebuffed”.
And despite the change of tone in Madrid toward Gibraltar, he acknowledged that this would be a difficult objective to achieve.
“But perhaps the difficulties that Brexit could create for ordinary people on both sides of the frontier will finally concentrate the minds of politicians whose rhetoric has come from far from this frontier,” he added.
“Perhaps this moment may be a watershed, at last.”
Mr Picardo, who has been under pressure from the GSD to provide public details of any discussions relating to Gibraltar as part of the Brexit process, offered some insight into his government’s thinking on these issues.
Spain has stated that it will not use Brexit to push its sovereignty aspirations over the Rock, but that it hopes to resolve historic “irritants” and agree future arrangements for the use of Gibraltar’s airport.
“We, similarly, have a list of historic issues that have long been ‘irritants’ for the people of Gibraltar that we will seek to have conclusively addressed,” Mr Picardo said.
“One of these is also, for us, the future arrangements that might be agreed by us for the exploitation of our £84m airport built pursuant to an agreement with Spain, as well as the ability to access the EU Single Sky even after we leave the EU.”
“Additionally our removal from Spanish financial services blacklists and better traffic flows at the frontier are amongst the matters we also want to see fairly addressed.”
The Chief Minister welcomed that Spain was not using Brexit to push its sovereignty agenda, but said “we will be sceptical and alert to ensure that remains the position”.
Mr Picardo said the multilateral process of withdrawing from the EU had created an opportunity for all relevant parties to find common ground within “established and immovable red lines”.
But he added that while Cabinet ministers and elected Opposition MPs had been “fully briefed”, he was unable at this stage to publicly offer any more details about the structure and the detail “of the discussions we are engaged in”.
“I am unable to do so for now without endangering the real opportunities for progress that we have identified,” he said.
“This is not out of a desire not to be totally open with you.”
“It is only out of a desire to allow all relevant parties the political space to progress discussions and build confidence amongst interlocutors.”
With a year to go to the UK and Gibraltar’s withdrawal from the EU, Mr Picardo also underscored the “relationship of trust” between Gibraltar and the UK, which he said had delivered important agreements that would safeguard the Rock’s future outside the bloc.