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Dastis briefs Barnier on Spain’s Gib Brexit position

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis stated again yesterday that any future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU must be agreed between Spain and the UK.
Sr Dastis was speaking to reporters after meeting Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, and briefing him on Spain’s priorities for the Brexit negotiations.
Earlier this week Mr Barnier had stated that Gibraltar would leave the EU alongside the UK, a position with which the Spanish minister agreed.
“Gibraltar is leaving and if in the future Gibraltar or the UK want Gibraltar, the territory or its citizens to have a relationship with Spain…that is a question that will have to be agreed between the UK and Spain,” Sr Dastis was quoted as saying by Spanish news agency Efe.
Sr Dastis said he had expressed support for Mr Barnier and Spain’s commitment to EU unity in the Brexit negotiations.
“The message I conveyed was that I had come here to reaffirm our support for his task, our trust in him and his team, and our will to maintain the 27 united in order to achieve the best possible agreement with the United Kingdom,” Sr Dastis said.
He added that the status of British citizens in Europe and European citizens in the UK would, together with the divorce bill, be the key issues to resolve in the exit agreement.
“In order for this negotiation to come out well, the foundation has to be a good understanding between the negotiator and those in whose name he is negotiating…” the Spanish minister added.
“This process is new and is subject to uncertainties and unknowns.”
In a separate development this week, the head of the Gibraltar desk at the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said Spain-s co-sovereignty proposal was “still on the table”.
Speaking to Spain’s state-owned Radio 5’s diplomacy programme ‘El mundo desde las Casas’, Antonio García Ferrer sketched out the main points of the proposal but said these were not set in stone.
“These are points that are open to negotiation, it’s not a case of take it or leave it,” Sr García Ferrer said.
The Spanish diplomat was reminded by the interviewer that Gibraltarians had overwhelmingly rejected a joint sovereignty proposal in 2002.
But he replied that the “…circumstances now are different.”
“The big advantage for Gibraltar would be continued membership of the European Union,” Sr Ferrer said.
“Back then [in 2002], that dilemma was not on the table.”
Sr García Ferrer also pointed to Spain’s long-term intent, namely a period of joint sovereignty ending in Spanish sovereignty.
“This is an offer that we have put on the table and which would preserve the continued application of EU law, in other words that Gibraltar continued to be part of the EU, and for a period of time that it did not have to reject its current status as a territory under British sovereignty,” he said.
The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator spelled out on Wednesday the bloc's conditions for talks, saying securing the rights of some 4.5 million EU and British citizens living abroad was paramount.
But Mr Barnier also warned of the risks if no deal was reached as Britain sought to leave.
Mr Barnier said the likes of Polish students and Romanian nurses in Britain and British pensioners in Spain faced great uncertainty over rights to residency and access to the labour market, pensions, social security and education.
“Guaranteeing their rights as European citizens, in the long term, will be our absolute priority from the very start of the negotiations,” he said in a speech to the Committee of the Regions in Brussels.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has also said she wanted the issue to be dealt with as a priority, while insisting a solution should be reciprocal.
The British government has been unwilling to guarantee existing rights outside of a broader agreement.
Mr Barnier said continuity, reciprocity and non-discrimination should be guiding principles, adding it would take several months to secure such a guarantee.
The EU negotiator, a former financial services commissioner used to dealing with London, said there were three conditions to reaching an exit deal within the two years envisaged by EU law after Mrs May formally launches Brexit on March 29.
The parties should be transparent and tell the truth about what leaving the bloc means, remove uncertainties concerning people, money and borders and negotiate issues in the right order, Mr Barnier said.
He said a scenario of the deadline of March 2019 passing with no deal, as has been suggested in London as a possibility, was not one the EU was entertaining.
Some hardline eurosceptics in Mrs May's conservative government have said that no deal -- which would mean, for example, Britain falling back on World Trade Organization tariffs -- would be better than a bad deal or no clean break with the EU.
But Mr Barnier said the absence of a deal could lead to long queues of trucks at British port city Dover, disruption of flights to and from Britain and a shortage of nuclear fuel for Britain's nuclear power plants.
He said a transitional arrangement might be necessary.
It should be based on EU laws, subject to EU courts, and of limited duration.
Mrs May has said that Britain's June 2016 vote for Brexit means Britain will be out of the EU, not half in and half out.

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