Brexit divorce deal under scrutiny in London, Gibraltar and Madrid
Prime Minister Theresa May repeated her assurances on Gibraltar and Brexit during a sessions of the House of Commons yesterday, during which she updated the UK Parliament on the latest developments after last weekend’s EU summit in Brussels.
As Spain continued to insist that it had secured important commitments from its EU partners, Mrs May said the UK would not exclude Gibraltar from the negotiations on the UK’s future trade deal with the EU.
And in a related development, the Gibraltar Government again dismissed Spanish claims that it had won an advantage for the forthcoming negotiations on the future trade deal, adding the commitments secured by Madrid had “zero legal value”.
No.6 Convent Place said it remained ready to engage in constructive dialogue with Spain over a future relationship with the EU, but that Gibraltar would not pay a sovereignty price to secure a deal.
Mrs May faced fierce criticism in the Commons yesterday over her deal, which is widely opposed by MPs from across the political spectrum.
The British parliament will vote on whether to support Mrs May's Brexit deal on December 11.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said the divorce deal negotiated by Mrs May was “the worst of all worlds” and would leave the UK with “no say over future rules and no certainty for the future”.
Mr Corbyn also claimed that deal opened the door for Spain to have "a role over Gibraltar".
But Mrs May defended the deal and dismissed the claims she had opened the door the Spain having any role in Gibraltar’s future.
“We have worked constructively with governments of Spain and Gibraltar and I want to pay tribute in particular to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo for his statesmanship in these negotiations,” she said.
“We have ensured that Gibraltar is covered by the whole Withdrawal Agreement and by the implementation period.”
“And for the future partnership, the UK Government will be negotiating for the whole UK family including Gibraltar.”
Mrs May cited Mr Picardo’s assessment of the weekend’s developments and said every aspect of the UK Government’s response had been agreed with Gibraltar.
The Prime Minister, who has been accused of letting Gibraltar down, said the Spanish Government had repeatedly sought to change the legal text of the treaty but had not achieved that.
She used the exchanges too to reaffirm the UK’s sovereignty commitments to Gibraltar.
“Our message to the people of Gibraltar is clear,” she said.
“We are proud that Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change.”
Gibraltar was raised several times during a feisty question and answer session after the Prime Minister’s statement to parliament.
Tory MP Mark Francois said that “no sooner is the ink dry than the Spanish are after Gibraltar and the French are after our fish.”
That drew a stern response from the Prime Minister.
“The United Kingdom has not surrendered in those matters that he has referred to,” Mrs May said.
“He talked about the Spanish position on Gibraltar. The Spanish have always had that position on Gibraltar.”
“He said French fishermen want our fish. As he knows, French fishermen have long been wanting our fish and fish in our waters.”
Conservative MP Bob Neill, the chairman of the All Party Group on Gibraltar, noted the Chief Minister’s assessment that the Withdrawal Agreement represented the best opportunity for an orderly exit from the EU for both the UK and Gibraltar.
He asked Mrs May whether this was something that MPs who had Gibraltar’s interests at heart should keep in mind.
The Prime Minister agreed, adding: “This is an important factor that members should consider when they come to consider their position on this deal.”
The Commons debate came hours after Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell defended the declarations obtained by Spain this weekend.
Spain secured declarations from the European Council and the European Commission saying Gibraltar would not be included in the scope of the UK/EU future trade negotiations but would instead have to be discussed separately, a position at odds with that of the UK.
Not only that, the EU said any agreement on Gibraltar would first have to be negotiated between London and Madrid.
The declarations also included a reference that any agreement on Gibraltar would have to be in line with EU treaty obligations on the territorial integrity of member states.
“Does this mean that we can’t negotiate something for Gibraltar? Of course not,” Mr Borrell said.
“The EU can negotiate with the UK over Gibraltar, but this negotiation will be done in such a way that Spain has to give its approval, from beginning to end.”
“Spain has to be in agreement with the final result.”
“So to a certain degree, the UK has lost some sovereign capacity because it is no longer free to negotiate with the EU over Gibraltar.”
“Such a negotiation would be deeply conditioned because Spain will have to give its approval.”
But Spain’s Socialist government as taken flack from opposition parties Partido Popular and Ciudadanos, who insist the commitments obtained by Spain from EU member states “are not legally binding”.
PP leader Pablo Casado went as far as describing the deal as “a historic humiliation” for Spain.
And in damning comments, the PP’s former Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel García-Margallo, who is well known for his hardline position on Gibraltar, described the developments as “a defeat” for Spain.
“Today is not a good day for Spain,” he told Cope radio, adding Spain should have sought a legally-binding solution and not been satisfied with “two declarations”.
“The problem has not been solved, it’s just been postponed, and we have lost the opportunity to establish conditions for the forthcoming negotiations.”
“The best opportunity that we have had since 1713 has been thrown down the tube and we are not going to see another one for many years.”
GIBRALTAR REACTS TOO
The Gibraltar Government also rejected Mr Borrell’s view that the UK had lost a measure of sovereign capacity over Gibraltar because it was no longer free to negotiate a future relationship with the European Union.
In a statement, No.6 Convent Place said the Prime Minister had “made it abundantly clear” that the UK Government would be negotiating for the whole UK family of nations and that this included Gibraltar.
It said the declarations referred to by Mr Borrell were political in nature and had “zero legal value”.
No.6 Convent Place said all Member States of the European Union would have a veto over “absolutely everything” in talks for the future trade deal.
In addition to this, the different national and in some cases regional parliaments of the different Member States would be required to approve every aspect of the future relationship.
“The talk of vetoes and exclusions is extremely unhelpful,” the government said.
“It simply serves to generate uncertainty among the people in the neighbouring region of Spain.”
The government said 14,000 people crossed the border daily for work and that economic studies had concluded that Gibraltar accounted for some 25% of the Campo de Gibraltar’s GDP.
It said the UK and Gibraltar had held discussions with several EU countries over the past two years as part of the Brexit process, including the Rock’s neighbour Spain.
This had led to a number of agreements across several issues and to Gibraltar’s inclusion in the WithdrawalAgreement and in the transition period through to2020.
“The basis of transition is that things will remain largely as they are for a fixed period while a future long-term relationship is negotiated and concluded,” the government said.
“That future is about the relationship that the United Kingdom family, including Gibraltar, and the EU will have as from 1 January 2021.”
“Gibraltar has always been ready and willing to discuss that relationship, in a friendly and constructive manner, in the same was as we have discussed our terms of exit from the European Union.”
“What we are not ready or willing to do is to give up any part of our sovereignty as the price to pay.”