Gibraltar's sovereignty 'must not be a bargaining tool in Brexit talks'
The future sovereignty of Gibraltar must not become a "bargaining tool" in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, the UK Government has been warned.
The UK must be alert to any move by Spain to advance claims over the Rock as part of divorce talks with Brussels, peers have insisted.
There were also calls during a House of Lords debate for the border between Gibraltar and Spain to be "as free flowing as possible" following the UK's departure from the EU, given the economic importance of the frontier.
Peers were discussing a report by the Lords EU Committee which argued that Britain had a "moral duty" to ensure that Gibraltar's voice is heard in the Brexit talks.
The committee warned that with 40% of Gibraltar's workforce crossing over the border from Spain every day, withdrawal from the single market would have significant implications.
The fact Gibraltar voted 95.9% to remain in the EU places a special responsibility on London to protect its interests during the Article 50 withdrawal talks, peers said.
Opening the debate, committee chairman Lord Boswell Aynho said: "On one key issue no compromise is possible."
"The Government has made a commitment never to enter into sovereignty discussions against the will of the Gibraltarian people."
"The United Kingdom government needs to be alert to any attempts by Spain to advance territorial claims over Gibraltar."
"Our view is that the United Kingdom Government has a unique moral responsibility to ensure that Gibraltar's voice is heard and its interests respected as we approach Brexit and beyond."
Chief minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia looked on from the diplomatic gallery in the House of Lords as peers debated the issue.
Tory peer Lord Selkirk of Douglas said after the Brexit the UK would have two land borders with the EU, one between Northern Ireland and the Republic and the other between Gibraltar and Spain.
Given the thousands who used the border each day, he said: "I strongly support this report's call for the maintenance of a frontier between Gibraltar and Spain which is as free flowing as possible following Brexit."
He added: "I believe that Britain's negotiators must also be vigilant over any attempts by Spain to try and use the constitutional future of Gibraltar and the issue of sovereignty as a bargaining tool."
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, wanted assurances that the Government was "stress-testing" all the scenarios that could use Gibraltar, including Spain using sovereignty or cross border access, as a "bargaining chip".
Labour peer Lord Hoyle, a freeman of Gibraltar said: "The people of Gibraltar have always been good friends of this country...we must not let them down in our negotiations in relation to Brexit."
Stressing the strategic importance of Gibraltar, Lord West of Spithead said: "In purely military terms, Gibraltar and its brave resolute people are important to the security and stability of our nations and Nato in this very dangerous world."
Retired judge and independent crossbencher Baroness Butler-Sloss said: "It's abundantly clear that during the Brexit negotiations and post-Brexit we must publicly and effectively support Gibraltar in all the necessary situations which may arise, including continuing threats from Spain."
"The Government has promised again and again to do so and it must carry out its promise."
Responding to the debate, Baroness Goldie said the Government recognised the economic importance of a "well-functioning" border between Gibraltar and Spain, and committed to work with both administrations to ensure this continued post-Brexit.
On the issue of sovereignty, she added: "We will continue to stand beside Gibraltar and its people."