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Brexit divorce deal ‘gives Spain influence and is bad for Gibraltar’, GSD says

The Withdrawal Agreement “is bad for Gibraltar”, the GSD says today in a damning assessment of a deal which it claims “allows Spain a voice in our domestic affairs and a measure of control over these”.

The GSD’s analysis of the content of the Gibraltar Protocol, the Memorandums of Understanding and the associated documents is uncompromising and leaves little doubt as to the party’s conclusion.

“There can be little doubt that these concessions hand to Spain influence and some control over aspects of our affairs,” the GSD said.

The party accuses the GSLP/Liberals of surrendering Gibraltar’s “biggest bargaining chip” by allowing frontier workers to be protected beyond the implementation period with “nothing permanent in exchange”.

The GSD also argues that the arrangements in the MoUs are bilateral in nature and do not recognise Gibraltar’s right to conclude political agreements. The party says the MoUs, which were signed by the UK and Spain, should have been signed trilaterally.

It questioned Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s “cheerleading” for Prime Minister Theresa May, accusing him of “spin and distortion” in his “Orwellian” presentation of the agreement.

The party said it was not in Gibraltar’s interests to leave the EU, meaning any agreement was worse than remaining in the bloc.

“All of this may be academic because the Withdrawal Agreement may not make it through [the UK] Parliament on Tuesday 11 December or in a subsequent vote, but what is clear is that this set of arrangements can hardly be proclaimed in the euphoric terms done so by Mr Picardo,” said GSD Leader Keith Azopardi.

“The only way to have presented this is as a deal for Gibraltar containing elements we do not like, which may be better than no transitional deal at all.”

“The people of Gibraltar could then decide whether they are prepared to pay that price.”

“But in practice this is a short-term extension of EU law in exchange for which we have permanently protected frontier workers and allowed Spain a say in our domestic affairs with no longer term gains for Gibraltar.”

“Given those issues of content, structure and presentation the GSD cannot back Mr Picardo’s deal as good for Gibraltar. It is a bad deal whether or not it makes it through the UK Parliament.”

The GSD reached its assessment after analysing the documents for several days and discussing the deal at an executive meeting on Thursday.

Its conclusions are in stark contrast to the position of the Gibraltar Government, which negotiated the content of the Gibraltar aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement alongside the UK and Gibraltar governments.

According to No.6 Convent Place, the agreements “…make no concessions on sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.”

The Gibraltar Government’s central role and competencies, No.6 adds, is clearly defined in a legally-binding document, known as a Concordat, agreed by Prime Minister Theresa May and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in No.10 Downing Street last month.

In the Concordat, UK Government made clear that any reference in the Withdrawal Agreement “when the context so requires” is in fact a reference to Gibraltar, whose primary role is explicitly acknowledged by the UK.

As such, No.6 argues, the text dispels any suggestion that the Brexit divorce arrangements relating to Gibraltar were agreed bilaterally by Spain and the UK.

But the GSD made clear that it is not convinced by that analysis, setting out its reasoning in a detailed three-page statement in which it claimed:

• The Protocol envisages bilateral UK-Spain committees to deal – in effect – with Gibraltar domestic policy matters, with disputes lying to EU-UK committees.

• The Protocol and that MoUs that underpin it home in on issues of tobacco, tax and the environment in language that enshrines, in international agreements, long-standing Spanish complaints as if these could be justified. “They refer several times to ‘fraud’ or ‘smuggling”’ or ‘money laundering’,” the GSD said. “Why is the GSLP/Liberal Government endorsing that enshrinement of language?”

• The MoUs that underpin the agreement were concluded bilaterally. They were signed by the Spanish Foreign Minister for Spain and by the UK Deputy Prime Minister for the UK. “This is an abandonment of the gains made by Sir Peter Caruana that political agreements - like the MOUs are - should be trilateral,” the GSD said. “The UK-Gibraltar Concordat does not cure this. In effect the MoUs and the structures created by them are no better than the two flags three voices formula of the early 1990s, which the GSD rejected in office.”

• In substance the MOUs will allow encroachments into Gibraltar’s domestic affairs by Spain. Any disagreement in respect of detail will then be kicked up to a so-called Specialised Committee set up under the Withdrawal Agreement “which we will not control”, the GSD said. “This Specialised Committee will resolve disputes. In practice matters will be taken out of our hands and we could be told what to do on matters concerning our waters, the environment, fishing, tobacco or petrol.”

• Spain has fully protected its frontier workers in the process, but Gibraltar has not got a permanent gain in exchange.

The GSD said the MoUs contain concessions that hand Spain “influence and some control” over aspects of Gibraltar’s affairs.

It said that while the Protocol and the MoUs are without prejudice to the respective parties’ positions on “sovereignty and jurisdiction”, they make no mention of “control”, a word that Mr Picardo has referred to repeatedly in his public statements on Brexit.

Mr Azopardi said the deal covered only the 21-month transition period, after which Gibraltar would be out of the EU if the future relationship was not agreed.

But he noted too that the MoU on citizens’ rights would “Spanish frontier workers” beyond that date, whatever happened with the negotiations on the future arrangements.

“Frontier workers will be protected beyond December 2020 even if we find ourselves outside the EU with a hard Brexit,” he said.

“In effect therefore we have given up the biggest bargaining chip that we had in negotiations for a future relationship with the EU for nothing permanent in respect, for example, of freedom of movement at the border.”

The GSD Leader also argued that the tax agreement that forms part of the deal should also have been published ahead of the vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

“The business and financial services sector in Gibraltar will want to know what Mr Picardo intends to agree given Spanish historic and unjustified criticism of our finance centre,” he said.

Mr Azopardi was critical of the way Mr Picardo had championed the Brexit deal in the UK, describing the Chief Minister as Mrs May’s “biggest and almost only cheerleader” and contrasting that with the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, and the DUP’s Arlene Foster, all of whom think the deal is bad.

He said the Chief Minister should have refrained from urging UK MPs to back Mrs May’s deal, not least because “it is better to remain in the EU”.

He said the support was “premature” given that political uncertainty in the UK may lead to events supporting a better deal for Gibraltar, such as remaining in the EU or a People’s Vote on whether to remain.

Mr Picardo’s position on the deal also “risks alienating” the majority of UK MPs - and any future Prime Minister or UK Government - who appear to be against the Withdrawal Agreement.

The GSD also took issue with the way the Gibraltar Government had presented the MoUs in Gibraltar.

When it published the documents, No.6 Convent Place added an explanatory note to the top of the documents which does not actually for part of the official versions of the MoUs. That note set out the Gibraltar Government’s interpretation of the agreements and their effect.

For the GSD, that presentation was “Orwellian” and served to put the Chief Minister’s “particular spin” on the deal.

“This page which purports to be a ‘Notes for Interpretation’ of all the MoUs is in fact not part of the MoUs at all,” Mr Azopardi said.

“These ‘Notes’ are drafted to suggest either that the MoUs are between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar – which is not true – or that the Notes are agreed between Spain, the UK and Gibraltar, which cannot be true either.”

“The inclusion of this cover sheet on the MoUs published in Gibraltar is unilateral by the GSLP/Liberal Government and is intended to give a loaded and distorted reading of the documents agreed.”

“It is unacceptable in principle that the Government should resort to this or give the impression they are part of the MoUs.”

“People in Gibraltar should be allowed to make up their own mind as to whether the MoUs are good for Gibraltar without twist and spin.”

The GSD added that the inclusion of the Gibraltar Government’s note on the MoU on citizens’ rights suggested that agreement would end in December 2020, when in fact it would survive beyond that dates.

“The GSLP/Liberal Government should remove the cover sheet immediately, publicly admit this distortion and apologise to the people of Gibraltar,” Mr Azopardi said.

“It is the equivalent of a government press release and no more. It has no status as an agreed note of interpretation of the MoUs. It is simply not agreed.”

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