Britain ‘absolutely bound’ to protect Gibraltar’s economy, Foreign Secretary says
The UK Government is “absolutely bound” to protect Gibraltar’s economic interests after Brexit, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said this week against the backdrop of lively debate about the UK’s proposal on EU citizens’ rights.
Mr Johnson was speaking the House of Commons during a debate on Brexit and said the UK was “absolutely clear” that Gibraltar’s British sovereignty was “inviolable”.
But he was reminded by Labour MP Emily Thornberry that the key concern relating to Gibraltar was not about sovereignty, but rather the Rock’s future trading position outside the EU.
“We are absolutely bound to protect the economic interests of the people of Gibraltar, not least—this point can be made in respect of the whole argument about Brexit—because of course a strong Gibraltar and a robust Gibraltar economy are in the interests of Andalucia and the rest of Spain,” Mr Johnson replied.
“We will get that done.”
The Foreign Secretary was speaking after Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled details of her plan to protect the rights of EU nationals living in Britain and seek reciprocal treatment for British citizens in the EU.
The plan covers British citizens in Gibraltar, who have the same rights as Britons in the UK, but also includes specific references to Gibraltar in the text.
“The reciprocal agreement on citizens’ rights will apply to the entire United Kingdom, covering Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England, and Gibraltar,” the proposal states.
“Decisions that are currently made by the devolved administrations and the Government of Gibraltar will continue to be made by them.”
It defines a UK national in the same manner as has been used to date for EU purposes, which includes “British Dependent Territories citizens who acquire their citizenship from a connection with Gibraltar.”
The explicit references to Gibraltar in Mrs May’s citizens’ rights proposal has raised heckles among some commentators in Spain, who insist Gibraltar must be dealt with separately and bilaterally between Gibraltar and Spain.
The point to Clause 24 of the EU’s negotiating guidelines, which state that any deal for a future relationship between the UK and the EU can apply to Gibraltar if Spain agrees it with the UK.
Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said earlier this week that he did not want Gibraltar to be a central issue in the Brexit discussion.
Yesterday, in the wake of the Spanish press reports on Mrs May’s proposal, he said: “The United Kingdom can say what it wants or put its position on the table.”
Sr Dastis added that “the EU guidelines say what they say” and Spain would handle this issue “in line with those guidelines”.
In Brussels yesterday, the UK’s junior Brexit minister Robin Walker told reporters that the citizens’ rights proposal was part of the first phase of exit talks and covered British citizens in Gibraltar and EU citizens who worked there.
He said the EU’s guidelines recognised that Gibraltar will be part of the exit agreement, adding that the UK had made this part of its position and this had been accepted by the EU, according to Spanish press reports.
Mr Walker acknowledged the EU negotiating guideline in respect of the application to Gibraltar of any future agreement, but insisted the UK would want to reach a deal that worked for all parties, adding that ensuring continued frontier fluidity was in the best interests of both Gibraltar and Spain.
Yesterday European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas was asked by a Spanish reporter what the Commission’s position on Gibraltar was in the light of Mrs May’s proposal.
“The Gibraltar issue is covered by the negotiating mandate which has been given to us and the Commission will be sticking to the negotiating mandate that has been given to us by the 27 member states,” Mr Schinas said.
During his budget address on Monday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo confirmed that Gibraltar would respect the acquired rights of all EU nationals established or working here before the final cut-off date agreed between the UK and the EU.
He said Gibraltar would have no issue with any disputes in respect of this class of EU Citizen being determined by the European Court of Justice.
“Our position in this respect has been clear from the moment that the referendum result was announced,” he said.
“We have not wanted any EU national to have any uncertainty in the lives in respect of this matter.”
The Government of Gibraltar has full Constitutional competence in respect of matters of immigration.
The position in respect of EU nationals who come to Gibraltar after that date would depend on whether Spain and the EU sought to use Clause 24 to exclude Gibraltar from the benefits of any future UK/EU deal, he added.
“We will see how all that plays out but one thing is for sure, this Government of Gibraltar…will not allow Gibraltar to be discriminated against and yet extend generous rights to the nationals of those who are discriminating against us,” he said, adding that Gibraltar has full Constitutional competence in respect of matters of immigration.
“For it should be clear that the people of Gibraltar are not going to be pressured to surrender sovereignty in exchange for EU rights or access to the Single Market or anything at all.”
Gibraltar was also raised during a debate in the House of Commons on the contents of the Queen's Speech, which sets out the Government's legislative programme for the next Parliament.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, a keen Brexiteer but also a longstanding friend of Gibraltar, raised the concerns of this community about the challenges and uncertainty ahead.
“The people of Gibraltar, I have to say, are rightly nervous at this time and I welcome the announcement that His Majesty the King and Queen of Spain will soon visit the United Kingdom for a state visit,” he said.
“But there was nothing in the Queen's Speech that gave any public reassurances that Gibraltar's economy and sovereignty would be safeguarded and therefore I call upon Her Majesty's Government to do just that.”
“We must never let down the people of the Rock who have time and again demonstrated their undying loyalty to the British Crown and to the United Kingdom.”
Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, said it was “quite possible” that a Brexit agreement could prove difficult because of disagreement with Spain over Gibraltar.
“The Government of Gibraltar interpret clause 24 of the guideline document produced by President Donald Tusk of the European Council as potentially leaving their position uncertain and unsettled after any deal,” he said.
“The question will be whether the British Government are prepared, in order to get an agreement, to sell out Gibraltar and its interests, or, if they do get an agreement, whether it will be worth anything after we have left the EU, when we will no longer be able, within the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, or through other measures, to protect the interests of Gibraltar, and when there will be a member state in the EU that has another agenda.”
“Similar issues would apply elsewhere, but Gibraltar is a fundamental sticking point and problem in these negotiations.”
“The Foreign Secretary and the British Government need to come clean and state publicly what their position will be.”