Gibraltar’s future with EU will form part of UK’s Brexit talks, Irish Government says
Gibraltar’s future relationship with the European Union will be discussed as part of Brexit negotiations between the UK and the bloc’s 27 members, the Irish Government told the Chronicle yesterday.
While Ireland regards the “status” of Gibraltar as a bilateral issue between the UK and Spain, it expects to address issues relating to the Rock’s post-Brexit relationship with Europe “as and when they arise” in the wider negotiations with the UK.
The Irish position will rankle with Spain, which believes the Rock’s future after Brexit is a bilateral issue solely for the UK and Spain to resolve.
It is also in sharp contrast to claims made by Spanish Partido Popular MEP Esteban González Pons after a meeting with Ireland’s Europe Minister, Dara Murphy, earlier this week.
The two men met in Brussels to discuss Brexit and Sr Pons subsequently claimed the Irish minister had expressed “his support for the Spanish position on Gibraltar”.
But when the Chronicle contacted the Irish Government to confirm the statements being attributed to Mr Murphy, the response was different.
“Minister Murphy explained the unique situation of Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit,” a spokesman for Ireland’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade told this newspaper.
“Mr Pons stressed the sensitivity for Spain of the status of Gibraltar and its future relationship with the EU.”
“Ireland regards the status of Gibraltar as a bilateral issue between the United Kingdom and Spain, two countries with which it enjoys excellent relations.”
“Ireland will address issues regarding the nature of the relationship of Gibraltar with the European Union post-Brexit as and when they arise in the course of negotiations on the future relationship of the UK with the European Union.”
The comments from the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman leave little doubt that Ireland believes it and other EU members will have a say, as part of the wider negotiation with the EU, on what shape Gibraltar’s future relationship with the bloc will take. It also suggests a ‘wait and see’ approach to those Gibraltar-related issues.
The British Government has already made clear that it will defend Gibraltar’s interests as part of the UK’s negotiations to withdraw from the EU, and there is strong support for that position in both houses of the British Parliament.
Just last week, an influential Lords committee said Gibraltar was part of the EU and its withdrawal was “…a matter for the UK and the EU collectively, not for a separate, bilateral negotiation between the UK and Spain.”
But the latest developments also underscore Spain’s efforts to set out its position on Gibraltar in meetings with other EU countries, and ahead of discussions to agree the framework for Brexit negotiations in the coming weeks.
Sr Pons, 52, is chairman of the Brexit working group of the European People’s Party [EPP], which brings together European centre right parties and is an influential force in the EU. He is regarded as a Spanish heavyweight in Brussels and is ranked 21 in a list of the 40 most influential MEPs prepared by the Brussels-based political website Politico.
Although Sr Pons met Mr Murphy in his EPP capacity, his observations on the meeting were made in a statement issued by the PP in Spanish.
In the communique, Sr Pons said the Irish minister had agreed that the situation between Ireland and Northern Ireland was “completely different” to that between Spain and Gibraltar.
That was a position set out this week too by Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, and one with which officials here and in the UK will not disagree.
The UK and Gibraltar hope, however, that Spain will show good faith in the Brexit talks and seek to find practical ways to ensure fluidity at the Gibraltar border, in the same way that the UK and Ireland have stated they will work together to avoid a return to a hard border with Norther Ireland.
In the statement, the Spanish MEP added also repeated Spain’s well-known position on Gibraltar, describing the Rock as “a colony” within the EU and insisting that after Brexit, Gibraltar will be “a colony belonging to a third country”.
Sr Pons said Madrid’s co-sovereignty proposal was “the most reasonable solution” for the future of Gibraltar, which must decide to “leave with London or stay in the EU with Spain”.
The Spanish MEP took a tough stance on Gibraltar and Scotland earlier this year during a session of a European Parliament select committee analysing Brexit.
He told Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and the Scottish government’s Fyona Hyslop, both of whom addressed the committee, that there was no scope for a differentiated Brexit deal or “a la carte” solutions.
Mr Picardo replied that Gibraltar would never negotiate its sovereignty and that “with good will” it would be possible to secure a Brexit that safeguarded border flow.
Likewise Mrs Hyslop told the PP politician that differentiated solutions in Brexit would present complex legal and constitutional challenges, but these could be overcome “with political will to make it work”.
The EPP is the largest and most influential European-level political party of the centre-right, which currently includes 79 parties and partners from 41 countries, the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, and of the European Parliament, eight EU and seven non-EU heads of state and government, 14 members of the European Commission and the largest Group in the European Parliament.
Last night, both the Gibraltar Government and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office declined to comment on the meeting between Mr Murphy and Sr Pons, or the subsequent statements.