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Brexit deal for Gib ‘a few small phrases’ away, CM says

Screen grab from Cadena Ser interview.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Gibraltar, the UK and Spain are just “a few small phrases” away from “a historic agreement” that would frame the Rock’s future relationship with the European Union.

Speaking on Cadena Ser’s flagship morning news programme 'Hoy por Hoy' in a special edition broadcast from Gibraltar, Mr Picardo said there was still time to reach agreement despite the looming December 31 deadline for the end of the transition period.

"We're still in time," he said.

"I think we're just a few phrases, a few small phrases, away from a historic agreement."

"And what I urge from all those who are negotiating with me, and I ask this of myself, is legal rigour, but also intellectual pragmatism in order to reach that agreement in time."

Mr Picardo was speaking as negotiations continued for the broader UK/EU future trade deal. Both sides have signalled progress, but deep rifts too.

The agreement on Gibraltar, the Chief Minister said, would be “parallel” to any UK/EU deal and would seek different things.

The UK/EU deal does not cover mobility or the free movement of goods, but rather seeks the opposite, to extract the UK from the EU's single market for freedom of movement and goods.

"What Gibraltar is looking for, and I've said this from the outset, is to try and find an agreement that allows us to have even more fluidity, more mobility, and also some sort of agreement on goods," Mr Picardo said.

The Chief Minister would not be drawn on the detail of the negotiations of the remaining stumbling blocks. To air those publicly, he said, would be to “build walls”

But as he spoke of the contingency measures taken by Gibraltar in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, he stressed that with or without a deal, January 1 would bring “drastic change” to Gibraltar and the surrounding region.

The Chief Minister said Gibraltar’s primary goal was to seek a "Schengen-style" agreement to guarantee freedom of movement for people.

He was speaking after Mrs Gonzalez Laya was interviewed on CNN and expressed the hope that a deal could be struck on mobility.

“We know that without a deal, the European Union external border will be in Gibraltar and we think we should try to work to avoid this happening,” she said.

“We want to create an area of shared prosperity around Gibraltar, and for that we need a deal too.”

“So we will continue to look for a deal. That's, I guess, the short answer.”

But while Mrs Gonzalez Laya said she saw “a small, little progress” omn the UK/EU negotiations, she was “a bit more concerned” about the deal for Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU, adding that she had “full respect for Gibraltarian citizens”.

During the interview on Cadena Ser, the Chief Minister was asked what would happen at the border if there was no agreement on mobility.

He repeated that he believed a deal was possible and said 30m visitors – among them frontier workers - crossed the border in both direction annually.

To impose a requirement for the wet stamping of passports, he said, would amount to “a lot of unnecessary ink.”

Asked about how Gibraltar would handle such a situation, he said it would reciprocate and mirror what happened on the Spanish side.

“We'll have a control to enable us, in a reciprocal manner - because we will only do what is done to us - carry out checks on passports or other ID documents to ensure that the person wants to enter Gibraltar has either rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, or not and is subject to a different control,” Mr Picardo said.

The Chief Minister noted that the Brexit negotiations in respect of Gibraltar had started under the Partido Popular and its then Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, "who was very sensitive to the issues".

But of the current Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, he said he showed "a sensitivity we have never seen before".

"She has spoken about the interests of Gibraltarians and understood that we are part of the challenge that is looming over us on January 1, and that we want a solution that works for everyone," the Chief Minister said.

Mr Picardo praised the "positive" approach of the Spanish negotiating team, adding: "At times, we can see a different Spain, and that for Gibraltar is very important."

"We must be hostages to the past in looking to the future," he said.

"I say that as much to Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians as I say it to Spain, its government and its negotiating team."

"We have to think about what we want for our children, not in what we [inherited], those stories from the 50s and 60s."

Pressed on what he foresaw as the outcome, Mr Picardo remained upbeat about prospects of a deal, opting for a football analogy to illustrate his point.

"I think anything is possible," he said.

"Remember, I support Liverpool, so I know that in extra time is when we score the best goals and we emerge as champions, and I hope that UK, Spain and Gibraltar emerge out of this as champions."

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