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Feetham reflects on Brexit issues

The leader of the Opposition, Daniel Feetham, has said Spain’s stance is ‘softening’ towards Gibraltar since the departure the previous Foreign Minister, but nonetheless urged caution.

Mr Feetham was speaking on GBC’s Viewpoint on Thursday evening in which a number of Brexit-related questions were put to him.

“It appears to have softened, I would always urge a note of caution in relation to this because I think that the underlying policy of the PP government towards Gibraltar continues to be the same,” Mr Feetham told the current affairs programme.

“We will have to see how this plays out, there’s a lot of water that needs to go under the bridge before we have a realistic picture of what Spain’s attitude towards Brexit viz a viz Gibraltar is going to be.”

Nonetheless, he highlighted certain shared interests between Britain and Spain that should bode well for Gibraltar.

Asked what role he expects Spain to have in the process in the coming months, Mr Feetham replied that there are a number of points where Gibraltar is potentially vulnerable.

He pointed to the moment when the United Kingdom triggers an Article 50 notice.

At that point, he said, the UK government will be expected to provide a list of issues or areas that they want included in an exit agreement.

“The EU collectively will then provide its own list of areas that it wants to see included in an agreement they will then be by consensus, so Spain will be able to veto it, a joint list.”

Mr Feetham explained that Spain’s former Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, had wanted Gibraltar to be excluded from that joint list.

“I think that is where Spain has potentially softened,” he said, highlighting the ‘shared interests’ and pressure from the EU on account of cross-border workers as reasons for this.

Asked for his thoughts on the messages emerging from the first Joint Ministerial Council meeting this week, he pointed out that the Opposition has not been involved in the process.

“My impressions are derived from what everybody else sees because we have not formed part of any of that,” Mr Feetham said.

“They seem to be positive. I would hope that the Chief Minister in due course does brief the Opposition in relation to this both in what is his strategy and also how these meetings have actually gone.”

“I think it is important that the Opposition is apprised of the situation because then we can avoid difficulties in the future in relation to our own role which is to hold the government to account,” he explained.

Mr Feetham added that it is important for Gibraltar to remain ‘vigilant’ because the United Kingdom government has had a ‘history’ of caving in to pressure from Spain at the very last moment.

“Because what you have at play here is the interests of 65 million people compared to the interests of 30,000 people,” he said.

He reiterated comments he has previously made regarding what Gibraltar could realistically achieve from the UK’s negotiations with the EU.

“From the very beginning we have said ‘keep it simple’. We cannot aspire to obtaining anything more in terms of a deal between the UK and Europe than the UK itself obtains.”

“We cannot have more Europe than the United Kingdom, it’s impossible from a constitutional point of view, it’s impossible from a realpolitik point of view.”

Therefore, Mr Feetham said, there was a lot of time wasted in perusing the “unrealistic” reverse Greenland model.

“That had more to do with a photo opportunity than in fact real politics and real solutions for Gibraltar,” Mr Feetham said.