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First round of talks on Rock’s post-Brexit future ends on ‘positive, constructive’ note

Jon Nazca/REUTERS

Gibraltar, the UK and Spain held exploratory talks on the Rock’s post-Brexit relations with Spain and the EU on Tuesday, setting out a calendar for future meetings and highlighting core issues where they will seek to reach agreement.

The meeting in Málaga was the first time that officials from the three governments had formally met to discuss Gibraltar’s future outside the EU once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

They were described by No.6 Convent Place as “positive and cordial”, although few details of the content of the discussions were revealed by any of the three governments involved.

"I welcome that we have had a very positive engagement with Spanish Government officials,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“The discussions took place in a cordial and constructive atmosphere.”

"All key issues were discussed and there are clearly areas where some significant progress can be made.”

“These include the issues of mobility, which has long been a point of unnecessary friction for citizens, and a wider agenda of engagement designed to continue to resolve matters which have long dogged our relationship.”

“The discussions will resume before the end of this month."

The urgency for the tight calendar of meetings arises from the fact that the transition period, unless extended by the UK, ends on December 31. So far, the UK has ruled out seeking an extension, a decision it must take by early July.

The discussions relating to Gibraltar run in parallel to the wider negotiations for a UK/EU agreement on a future relationship, which have so far proved rocky.

Yesterday, as the Gibraltar meeting was underway in Málaga, the UK told the EU to speed up negotiations on a Brexit free trade deal, cautioning that there was no point in having an 11th-hour agreement that would cause havoc for businesses and citizens.

"There is no point in us arriving at an agreement at the 11th hour: we have to arrive at agreement to enable it to be implemented, ratified but also for our citizens and businesses to prepare," Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons.

"That is what is dictating the timetable here and that is why we must have renewed focus. We're talking to the EU about having a change of format, about how we can increase the pace of negotiations, get the focus where we need it to be, and get a deal done for both of our sakes.”

Although little was said on Tuesday about the areas under discussion, one thorny subject was not on the table.

EL Pais, citing Spanish government sources, reported on Monday that Spain would not put sovereignty on the table, and would focus instead on tax matters, workers’ and citizens’ rights, and the environment.

In any event, the Gibraltar Government has stated on numerous occasions that it will not engage in any discussion on sovereignty.

Likewise the UK’s long-standing position is that it will not change or even discuss sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.

The Gibraltar delegation was led by the by the Chief Minister, who was accompanied by the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, Attorney General Michael Llamas and Financial Secretary Albert Mena.

The UK delegation included London’s ambassador to Madrid, Hugh Elliott, as well as officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Spanish delegation, which included officials from different ministries, was led by the Director General for EU Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, José Pascual Marco, the senior Spanish official who led the negotiations for Spain on the MoUs and the tax treaty.

The Spanish ministry described the meeting as being between the UK and Spain - the discussions fall within the remit of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, the departing member state that represents Gibraltar in the EU - but acknowledged the fact that the UK delegation was “accompanied by a representation from the Gibraltarian authorities”.

“The meeting was used to review issues that will guide the direction of subsequent rounds of talks between Spain and the United Kingdom that have now commenced regarding Gibraltar,” the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“The delegations also exchanged points of view on the state of negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom on their future relations.”

“The parties reached an agreement in principle on the schedule and the organisation of the subsequent rounds of talks.”

“The parties also broadly agreed on the definition of the elements that will form part of an eventual agreement, among which the interests of workers and of citizens in the zone are priorities.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office also acknowledged the positive tone of the discussions on Tuesday, and said its officials provided an update on the UK-EU future relationship negotiations.

“The meeting considered those issues that will form the basis of future discussions, with agreement to meeting again in the coming weeks,” it said in a statement.

“The parties noted their intention to work constructively and positively, and agreed that the priority is the continued well-being and prosperity of people in the region.”