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Gib interests 'harder to protect' after Brexit vote, Hammond says

Britain’s ability to protect the interests of Gibraltar has been damaged by the EU referendum result, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said today.

In an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, Mr Hammond repeated a stark warning he first voiced when he visited Gibraltar ahead of the referendum campaign.

“We will be less able to protect Gibraltar's interests, not to defend Gibraltar's territory, of course we can do that, but to protect Gibraltar's interests if we are not in the European Union,” he said.

“Gibraltar depends on thousands and thousands of Spanish workers crossing that border every day and any disruption to that flow will be extremely damaging to the Gibraltar economy.”

Mr Hammond was speaking after Spain’s acting Foreign Secretary, José Manuel García-Margallo, said on Friday that Spain would seek joint sovereignty over the Rock after the Brexit Rock.

That statement was immediately rejected by both the British and Gibraltar governments.

On Friday, UK Europe Minister David Lidington reaffirmed Britain’s double-lock sovereignty commitment to Gibraltar.

“I want to be absolutely clear,” he said in a message to Gibraltar.

“The United Kingdom will continue to stand beside Gibraltar.”

“We will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against your wishes.”

“Furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”

Likewise Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, in an address to the Gibraltar Parliament on Friday, said there was no prospect of any joint sovereignty deal.

“This government is confident there will be no talks or even talks about talks against the express wishes of the people of Gibraltar in respect of the sovereignty of Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.

“Gibraltar will never be Spanish in whole, in part or at all.”

“Gibraltar will never pay a sovereignty price for access to the single market.”

CABINET

In the interview on ITV this morning, Mr Hammond said the British Government’s cabinet, which was split over whether the country should vote to leave the European Union, would remain in place until a new prime minister was in office.

“Obviously a new prime minister will select his own cabinet and all of us will remain in office until that point and then the new prime minister will make his decision,” Mr Hammond told ITV television in response to a question about whether finance minister George Osborne would remain in post.

He said British ministers would continue to attend EU council meetings until the UK had formally left the bloc, although he conceded they would be greeted differently.

“The reality is that Britain's relationship with the European Union has changed, as of Friday morning, and we can't change that,” he said.

“We will be treated differently, we will be regarded differently. We can't expect what we say to be treated in the same way as it would have been last Thursday.”

The Foreign Secretary also said the UK would resist pressure from Brussels and other EU capitals for a swift start to negotiations on its withdrawal from the bloc.

Despite a demand from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker - backed by the foreign ministers of France and Germany - for the process to begin "immediately", Mr Hammond insisted that "nothing is going to happen at the moment".

The timing of the formal notification of intention to leave the EU, set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, is in Britain's hands and talks will not start until a new prime minister is chosen to replace David Cameron, he said.

Mr Hammond told ITV1's Peston on Sunday: "Our European Union partners would like us to do it quickly and we're already under some pressure. But the Prime Minister is clear that the correct way to do this is for the new prime minister to make the decision.”

“There is no imperative upon us to serve the notice at any particular time. The referendum is an internal matter, the British Government as a member of the European Union is entitled to serve that notice, but the timing is entirely one for the UK to determine.”

Mr Hammond made clear that he wanted the future PM to make continued access to the European single market the primary objective of withdrawal negotiations, in a "trade-off" which must mean accepting limits on the UK's ability to control immigration from the remaining 27 states.

It was "essential" to maintain single market access in order to continue to attract foreign investment without which Britain cannot "pay our way in the world", he said, warning: “Loss of that access now would be catastrophic.”

Foreign direct investment into the UK has already "all but dried up" as companies wait to see the consequences of the Brexit vote, the foreign secretary said.