UK Foreign Secretary warns of Brexit impact on Gibraltar
A British exit from the European Union would ‘seriously impair’ the British Government’s ability to stand up for Gibraltar, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said today during his first official visit to Gibraltar.
Mr Hammond, who supports Britain remaining in the EU, warned that a Brexit would be a threat to Gibraltar’s future security and prosperity.
“Britain's commitment to Gibraltar is absolute, it's unshakable and it will endure whatever the decision in the referendum,” he told reporters.
“But I have to say this. Britain's ability to protect Gibraltar's interests will be seriously impaired if we are no longer members of the European Union, if we are no longer sitting around the table in Brussels when the decisions are made.”
“We need to recognise that, with the best will in the world, Britain will not able to solve all the challenges that Gibraltar could face if there was an exit on June 23.”
Mr Hammond, who was speaking alongside Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in No 6 Convent Place, said the Rock’s economy was linked to the EU single market.
Both he and Mr Picardo said the UK and Gibraltar were better off inside the EU and that their efforts were focused to that end ahead of the June 23 referendum.
But the Foreign Secretary also left no doubt as to the risks ahead for this community.
“I genuinely believe that the threat of leaving the European Union is as big a threat to Gibraltar's future security and Gibraltar's future sovereignty as the more traditional threats that we routinely talk about,” he said.
“Gibraltar's future is clearly in the European Union's single market.”
Mr Picardo echoed that view and said Spain had already floated the prospect of raising the failed joint sovereignty proposal once again in the UK voted to leave the EU.
“Something upon which those who advocate Brexit should reflect is that they don't just say in Spain that our rights in Europe would come to an end ... but also that if we want to continue to have access to European Union rights we would have to consider the concept of joint sovereignty, which would be back on the table,” he said.
"So ironically somebody who believes they are being patriotic and supporting Gibraltar, by voting to leave the European Union, will be bringing about actually Gibraltar having to face, once again, the prospect of joint sovereignty with Spain, something which most of the friends of Gibraltar in the Brexit side of the argument fought tooth and nail against at the time it was last tabled by a Labour government…”
Mr Hammond and Mr Picardo were speaking after meeting to discuss Britain’s commitment to Gibraltar’s defence and security and both governments’ support for the UK to remain in the EU.
The visit began with a trip to the RFA Mounts Bay, a Royal Navy vessel currently moored in Gibraltar during active service in the Mediterranean, where the Foreign Secretary met the ship’s Commanding Officer and crew.
Mr Hammond also visited Gun Wharf to meet men and women serving in the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron, the Gibraltar Defence Police, the Royal Gibraltar Police and HM Customs, who defend Gibraltar’s sovereignty from land and sea.
This is Mr Hammond’s first visit to Gibraltar in his capacity as Foreign Secretary.
The last time a serving British Foreign Secretary visited Gibraltar was in 2009, when Labour’s David Miliband met with his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, and former Chief Minister Sir Peter Caruana as part of trilateral process.
Ahead of the visit, Mr Hammond delivered a clear message on the UK’s position in respect of Gibraltar.
“The UK's support for Gibraltar and the Gibraltarian people is firm and unconditional,” he said.
“I look forward to holding strategic talks with the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister on the territory's thriving economy, defence and security issues, and the upcoming EU referendum.”
“Access to the EU Single Market and the ability of EU workers to cross the Gibraltar border every day are a significant part of the territory's success story, so the EU referendum vote on 23 June will be as vital for Gibraltar as it is for the whole of the UK.”
“It is reassuring to see a large Royal Navy vessel moored in Gibraltar and it will be a pleasure to meet some of the UK servicemen and women who work tirelessly to safeguard the territory's sovereignty.”
During the visit, Mr Hammond walked down Main Street alongside Mr Picardo, stopping to greet people on his way to the headquarters of the Gibraltar Stronger In.
At the Stronger In headquarters, he met with students from Bayside and Westside who quizzed the Foreign Secretary on the EU referendum and their concerns about Brexit.
Mr Hammond is due to leave Gibraltar at lunchtime.
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