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In Brexit process, Gib dialogue on the horizon

Gibraltar remains open to “productive technical talks” with all relevant parties – including with Spanish officials – to mitigate any negative impact of Brexit, the Gibraltar Government said yesterday.

No.6 Convent Place was underscoring its well-known position following a report in Panorama that the UK and Spain were poised to hold “technical talks” on Gibraltar.

There has been no formal confirmation so far of any talks on Gibraltar, although imminent meetings between London and Madrid are widely anticipated as phase two of the Brexit negotiations gets under way, as they are with other EU governments.

But any such meeting between the UK and Spain would almost certainly include a range of Brexit-related subjects of importance to both governments and is unlikely to be focused exclusively on Gibraltar.

“The UK regularly meets with EU Member States about a range of issues, including the UK's exit from the EU,” a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said yesterday.

Discussions between London and Madrid on Brexit are necessarily of a bilateral nature because they deal with the UK’s membership of the EU, where Britain is responsible for Gibraltar’s interests.

But the UK Government’s close relationship with the Gibraltar Government via the Joint Ministerial Council on Brexit means Gibraltar’s position will be properly reflected if Gibraltar is raised in any discussion.

That includes the UK’s double-lock commitment on sovereignty, which is underlined by UK ministers at every opportunity.

And while the media focus so far has been on potential discussions between London and Madrid, neither the Gibraltar nor Spanish governments have ruled out the potential for direct contact between officials here and in Madrid on practical issues arising from Brexit.

Jorge Toledo, the state secretary for European affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid, hinted at that possibility while addressing the Spanish Congress last month.

Speaking to the parliament’s cross-party EU committee, Mr Toledo stressed Spain’s position that no Brexit deal can be applied to Gibraltar unless first agreed bilaterally by London and Madrid, “not even the transitional period, nothing.”

But he insisted that Spain would negotiate with the UK to mitigate any potential negative impact of Brexit at the border, placing his focus on cross-border workers, as Spanish ministers and officials have repeatedly done over recent months.

“We are going to negotiate with the United Kingdom when the time comes and our main aim is the workers of the Campo de Gibraltar, who as result will probably experience no change in their lives,” he said.

“If there is a change, I hope it’s for the better.”

And in a nod to potential future discussions between Gibraltar and Spanish officials, he added: “In our negotiation with Gibraltar, the citizens are the most important [factor].”

Last night the Gibraltar Government said it was ready to engage with any EU government or body to consider ways to address issues of concern that arise from withdrawal from the EU.

“The Gibraltar Government has already made it clear that as we prepare to leave the European Union it stands ready to engage in productive technical talks with all relevant parties, in a spirit of cooperation, in order to ensure that residents, tourists and workers can continue to go about their business,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.

“This contact is logical going forward and preliminary, exploratory discussions are indeed scheduled to take place soon.”

The prospect of future discussions on practical issues, however, will be complicated by Spain’s insistence that it should have a controlling voice over the application not just of any future UK/EU agreement to Gibraltar, but on a transitional deal too.

Earlier this week, a senior unnamed Spanish official with close knowledge of the Brexit discussions told El Pais that the Spanish Government was committed to taking a cautious approach on the issue of Gibraltar.

But he signalled too that Spain believes it has a strong negotiating position.

“We are not in a hurry and we don’t want to give the impression that we are rushing into such a delicate situation but we have won the first battle and now have the upper hand,” the source said.

The UK and Gibraltar will share the official’s cautious approach because the wider issues at stake mean all governments want a successful Brexit negotiation.

But officials here and in London do not concur with the view that Spain has scored an early Brexit victory on Gibraltar.

The firm view in London and Gibraltar is that the Rock is covered by the UK’s Brexit negotiations and the withdrawal agreement, which includes any transitional arrangements to soften departure from the bloc.

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