First stop Madrid as Davis seeks to build Brexit bridges
Brexit Secretary David Davis met Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis in Madrid yesterday, a day after UK officials reluctantly agreed to the Brexit timetable set out by the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
The Brexit Secretary had wanted trade talks to take place in parallel with negotiations on the divorce from Brussels but the UK accepted the timetable set out by Mr Barnier.
Even so, Mr Davis said he was optimistic about the process and the British appeared upbeat about the prospects of trade talks beginning before the final details of divorce proceedings had been agreed.
Mr Davis is taking his Brexit message across Europe and met members of the Spanish Government yesterday as part of his effort to build bridges across the continent.
It was not clear whether issues relating to Gibraltar were raised at the meeting, though the Chronicle understands it was not on the formal agenda for discussion.
As this edition went to press, there had been no official comment on the meeting from either the British or Spanish government.
In any event, the indications from Spain are that Madrid’s focus at this time is on other issues including citizens’ rights and the Brexit bill.
In Brussels on Monday, Sr Dastis played down any suggestion that his government would block a Brexit deal because of disagreement over Gibraltar.
Speaking to reporters, Sr Dastis said Spain wanted the UK to have a constructive relationship with the EU.
But he insisted that any future deal between the UK and the EU could only be applied to the Rock with Spain’s agreement after bilateral discussion with Britain.
“We have asked that Spain and the UK must discuss everything relating to the application to Gibraltar of the framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union,” he said.
“I take it as a given that this will be the case.”
“But I also want to say that there is no reason why the question of Gibraltar need be the first or most important thing in the framework of this discussion.”
“First we need to establish what that framework will be and then, based on its content, we will see how it is applied to Gibraltar.”
He added: “So there will be a bilateral discussion between the United Kingdom and Spain, but it will not be immediate or one of the pressing issues.”
Sr Dastis was speaking on Monday evening after the Brexit discussions finally got under way.
He was quizzed as to whether disagreements about Gibraltar might derail discussions to the point that Spain might block a future Brexit deal.
“I think not,” Sr Dastis replied.
“This is not only dependant on us, it depends too on the United Kingdom and above all on an agreement being reached.”
“But in our judgement, the fundamental issue – and we hope the United Kingdom sees it this way too – is for there to be a constructive relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”
“Beyond that, we will see the degree to which this is applied to Gibraltar, but this is not [an issue] for now, and neither need it be a crucial part of the agreement.”
Pressed on the issue of Gibraltar by Spanish reporters, Sr Dastis insisted that it was “difficult” for Gibraltar to form part of the discussions between the EU and the UK at this very early stage.
“First the UK has to exit and the terms of its exit have to be fixed,” he said.
“It’s the future [relationship] that we’re interested in, so it’s logical that this will be dealt with at a future date.”
Sr Dastis was asked whether the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michael Barnier, would be authorised to address the issue of Gibraltar with his British counterparts.
“It’s not a question of authorisation,” he replied.
“The guidelines say what they say, and we are not going to put in a strict and rigorous plan to verify the instructions day to day.”
“For me what is important is that at the end of it all, we are the ones who take the decision, obviously in agreement with the United Kingdom.”
The latest developments were closely followed from Gibraltar.
On Monday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo spoke to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Robin Walker, and discussed the opening of the Brexit negotiations.
Mr Picardo stressed the importance of the continued full involvement of Gibraltar in the negotiating process.
Speaking to GBC radio yesterday, Mr Picardo said he had “very fluid” communication with the UK Government on Brexit issues.
And he insisted that as Brexit discussions got under, it was important to look at the full context of the talks and not get bogged down in minute-by-minute analysis of complex negotiations unfolding in full media glare.
“We mustn’t be looking at every sigh and every remark that a minister or a negotiator makes, we must be looking at where we’re going,” the Chief Minister said.
“Gibraltar has a very clear view of where it needs to be in the context of the end of the negotiations.”
Mr Picardo also spoke with Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with whom he discussed the general political situation and recent security incidents in the UK.