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CM confident of ‘differentiated’ Brexit deal for Gibraltar and end to ‘sterile vetoes’

- Josep Borrell says Gib agreement will be “first step” toward Brexit deal

- RBS International’s chief executive says Rock plays long game ‘better than anyone else’

Gibraltar, the United Kingdom, Spain and the EU share the “goodwill and understanding” needed to make “sterile vetoes” a thing of the past and instead build a positive post-Brexit future for the Rock and neighbouring Spanish communities, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told a high-powered dinner this week.

Mr Picardo did not go into detail on the content of ongoing discussions but spoke of progress toward “a differentiated deal” for Gibraltar that respected red lines on sovereignty.

“I'm able to tell you confidently that the need for such a differentiated solution has been understood as much in London as it has been in Brussels and in Madrid,” Mr Picardo said.

“Today I am optimistic that we will soon not hear more of sterile vetoes when it comes to Gibraltar and our future relationship with the EU.”

“I sincerely believe that we will be able to talk about a future for Gibraltar which provides not just for a continued, enduring political relationship with Britain, but also for a continued political relationship with Europe.”

The Chief Minister was addressing senior guests from the business, banking and legal communities at a dinner hosted by the Gibraltar Government to mark the 30th anniversary of NatWest’s presence on the Rock.

And he received a fillip too from Andrew McLaughlin, the chief executive of NatWest’s parent company, RBS International, who praised the “resilience and wisdom” of the Gibraltarian community and expressed solid confidence in the Rock’s future outside the EU.

“I have to say that in the context of Brexit, there are many more things I worry about in relation to Brexit than Gibraltar itself,” he said.

“Because if there is a people or a place which has the resilience and the wisdom to make sure it comes through this potential existential threat to a way of life, it's the Gibraltarians.”

“I've seen and heard nothing in my last couple of years since that momentous decision by the British people to change that view.”

The pool-side dinner at the Rock Hotel was held as Spain’s Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, repeated to the Bloomberg news channel comments he had made earlier in the week to a Brussels-based journalist working for GBC.

Mr Borrell said “a big effort” was being made “…to reduce the risk that the Rock could be the last rock on the road.”

“On the contrary, we are trying that the agreement on Gibraltar will be the first step toward the global agreement.”

That was a message echoed yesterday by the Spanish Government’s representative in Andalucia, Alfonso Rodriguez Gomes de Celis, who was speaking ahead of a meeting of the Campo de Gibraltar mayors with Mr Borrell next Tuesday.

Highlighting the Campo’s unlocked economic and tourism potential, he said he was hopeful that “…Spain and Gibraltar will know how to reach agreements that provide stability to Spanish citizens who work on the Rock, but also to the Gibraltarians themselves.”

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo

Addressing guests at the dinner, Mr Picardo echoed those comments and said he and his team had worked to secure “realistically deliverable opportunities” that arose against the backdrop of withdrawal from the EU.

“Where the was no contact at all with Spain under the Partido Popular period before the result of the referendum, at least discrete contact has been possible since then,” he said.

“In that process, we have not had to compromise any of the cardinal ingredients of what we believe might have made such contact safe for Gibraltar.”

“There's been no separate bilateral process between the United Kingdom and Spain in relation to Gibraltar.”

“That would have been unacceptable to the Government of Gibraltar.”

“As a result, it is fair to say that I can warmly and positively echo the words attributed to the current Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell.”

The Chief Minister said there was no deal on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future to be announced yet, nor any text beyond the withdrawal agreement “that can be published” at this stage.

But he left no doubt about where he believed the discussions were heading.

“There is goodwill, there is understanding, and there is a desire to see a future relationship which provides certainty to residents of Gibraltar and citizens of the union,” he said.

“That means protecting established rights, it means working to ensure frontier fluidity is assured.”

“But it means exploring new opportunities too, because every crisis is an opportunity, and Brexit is a crisis for the whole of Europe.”

“I'm unable yet to provide you with any concrete details, but I can tell you that the direction of travel is a positive one, but also, of course, that the devil will be in the detail.”

“We remain vigilant that there should not be any attempt to try to advance in areas of sovereignty or other unacceptable aspects of what might eventually be agreed, or the form in which it might be agreed, that would never be acceptable a Government of Gibraltar.”

Speaking after the Chief Minister, RBS International’s Mr McLaughlin recounted an anecdote about the oak-beamed roof of the Great Hall in New College in Oxford.

He reflected on how those who built the hall in 1379 had had the foresight to ask a forester to plant a new oak wood in case the beams had to be replaced in the future.

It was not until 1918 that beetle rot was discovered and the replacement beams were needed.

“That's called long term thinking and playing a long game,” Mr McLaughlin said.

“When the history of Brexit is written, I'm very confident that Gibraltar will be the forester in that story.”

“As well as having wisdom, as well as being resilient, you also play a long game I think better than just about anyone else on this planet.”

“And although Brexit feels very episodic, very current, there's a long game behind it and that's one of the reasons why, in my list of worries around Brexit, I've got many others that are above Gibraltar.”

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