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Fleeting mention of Gib as May meets Rajoy

Gibraltar was touched on fleetingly during the meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and her caretaker Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, in Madrid yesterday.

A Spanish wire report quoted anonymous sources in the Spanish Government saying that Sr Rajoy had set out the Spanish position during a wider discussion on Brexit.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the issue had been raised.

“It was touched on but it wasn’t a substantive part of the discussion,” the spokesman told the Chronicle.

The Chronicle understands the issue of Gibraltar was raised by Sr Rajoy during a one-to-one part of the meeting with Mrs May.

The Downing Street spokesman would not be drawn on Mrs May’s response to the Spanish Prime Minister but she will almost certainly have underscored the UK’s double-lock sovereignty commitment to Gibraltar.

Mrs May is also likely to have stressed the UK’s decision to fully involve the Rock in preparations for Brexit, despite Spain’s insistence that Gibraltar be excluded from the negotiation.

“The Prime Minister made clear that as we go through the process of departure we will do so as one United Kingdom,” the Downing Street spokesman said.

“There will be internal consultation with the devolved administrations and other stakeholders about how we represent everyone’s interests, but we will negotiate and leave as the UK.”

“Both sides agreed that the UK is leaving the EU not Europe and we remain committed to positive bilateral relations, and with the European Union as a whole.”

The visit was being closely monitored by officials in Gibraltar, who were being kept informed by the British Government.

“Gibraltar has no reason to be concerned about the approach that Mrs May will have taken,” a spokesman for No 6 Convent Place said.

Just hours before the meeting, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had set out the UK’s commitment to Gibraltar in colourful language during evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons in London.

He said Britain will maintain “a completely implacable, marmoreal and rocklike resistance” to Spanish claims for any change in the sovereignty of Gibraltar as a result of Brexit.

The Spanish Government itself did not seek to highlight the issue of Gibraltar, which was not even mentioned in the official communique issued by Sr Rajoy’s office after the meeting.

The statement from La Moncloa instead focused on broader issues affecting both countries and highlighted the close relationship between the UK and Spain.

According to La Moncloa, Sr Rajoy conveyed his sadness at the UK’s decision to leave the EU and signalled Spain’s priorities ahead of the UK’s withdrawal.

He said he would defend Spain’s interests and those of Spanish citizens and companies that might be impacted negatively by this new situation.

Sr Rajoy also told Mrs May that Spain would champion European integration because it believed a more “effective and integrated” union was also in Spain’s best interests.

The Spanish Prime Minister also said that Britons living in Spain and British companies with investments there ‘should not worry’, a message he also conveyed to the millions of British tourists who visit Spain every year.

“He reassured her that Spain aspires to maintain a close and friendly future relationship with the United Kingdom, both at a bilateral level and within the framework of the [European] Union,” La Moncloa said in a statement.

“Mariano Rajoy also told the British Prime Minister that Spain would support the United Kingdom’s integrity and would not encourage any type of secessionism related to the withdrawal from the EU,” the statement added, in a clear reference to Scotland’s consultation on the possibility of a second independence referendum, and Madrid’s concerns about Catalonia.

The Downing Street spokesman said Mrs May and Sr Rajoy held “a productive working lunch” during the visit to Madrid, her first since becoming Prime Minister.

“Both leaders reiterated that our two countries have a strong relationship both economically and in terms of people to people links,” the spokesman said.

“Last year total trade between us amounted to almost £40bn and the UK was the second most popular destination for Spanish investment, behind only the USA.”

“Millions of British tourists visit Spain every year and around 280,000 have made this their home.”

He said Mrs May took the opportunity to praise the contribution that the many Spanish citizens living in the UK make to the country.

“She made clear that she wants and expects to be able to protect the status of all EU nationals living in the UK and that the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible would be if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return,” the spokesman added.