May says Gib’s Brexit protocol signals ‘new era’ for cross-border relations
- Picardo says ‘common sense has prevailed’
by Brian Reyes in London
The Gibraltar Brexit protocol will “herald a new era” in relations between Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons yesterday.
The Prime Minister made the statement during a statement updating parliament on last week’s EU Council meeting, marking the start of what is expected to be a tough week for Mrs May, with some observers speculating that the number of MPs calling for her removal may reach the 48 figure which would trigger a vote of no confidence.
Mrs May told MPs that the UK's Brexit deal was 95% complete and that "important progress" had been made on issues like security, transport and services since last month's fractious summit in Salzburg.
In a Commons statement after talks with EU leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister said the "shape of the deal across the vast majority" of the withdrawal agreement was now clear.
Protocols had been developed on how Brexit will affect Gibraltar and the UK's military base in Cyprus, she said.
“Following discussions with Spain – and in close co-operation with the Government of Gibraltar - we have also developed a protocol and a set of underlying memoranda relating to Gibraltar, heralding a new era in our relations,” Mrs May said.
Just an hour earlier at the annual finance centre lunch in the Guildhall in the City of London, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo signalled optimism about Gibraltar’s prospects, despite the broader backdrop of uncertainty surrounding the wider negotiations.
He said Gibraltar’s “partnership” with the UK Government had never been stronger.
“Our aspirations for the future have never been more determined,” Mr Picardo said.
“And our Brexit position has never been more secure,” the Chief Minister told guests, though he later added: “So long, of course, as there is a Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU.”
The Chief Minister referred to the Gibraltar protocol negotiated between the UK and the EU which he said “we no doubt all hope will shortly be finalised” and which would allow for an orderly withdrawal from the EU.
He said Gibraltar’s inclusion with the Withdrawal Agreement and transitional arrangements would protect the interests of both cross-frontier workers in the Rock’s economy and other citizens whose rights would be “entirely unaffected” to how they stand today.
Echoing the phrase first uttered by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, he said his government had worked closely with the UK Government to ensure Gibraltar was “the first building block” of a Brexit agreement, “not the last rock on the road”.
“It is the position that now prevails,” he told guests.
“In fact, it is common sense that has prevailed.”
“A disorderly Brexit would not have been in the interest of Spain, the United Kingdom, Europe or Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo also referred to the memorandums being negotiated with Spain separately to the protocol.
He said the included arrangement related to “…the resolution of conflicts in respect of tax residence of corporates and individuals.”
Agreement in this area, he added, would demonstrate “even in Spain” the legitimacy of Gibraltar’s market and its commitment to compliance with EU and international standards.
Mr Picardo also offered guests a snapshot of Gibraltar economic indicators, highlighting its low unemployment rate, GDP growth, the property sector and the Rock’s strong links to UK markets in insurance and financial services.
He stressed too the importance of agreements reached with the UK Government to ensure continued access for Gibraltar-based companies to UK markets.
“The terms of the access, based on the highest regulatory standards and client protection, is something on which we are already working closely together with Her Majesty’s Treasury and relevant regulators,” he said.
The event at the Guildhall brought together representatives from across the financial services sector in Gibraltar and the City, who shared views on the latest industry and political developments while dining on sea bass ceviche, slow-cooked short rib and loin and sticky toffee pudding, washed down with a choice of French red of white 2016 Michel Servin wines.
Before the meal, guests also heard from Robert Jenrick, a junior minister at the Treasury, who spoke of the work done with the Gibraltar Government over the past two years in preparation for Brexit and life outside the EU.
“Your success, like the City, is based on the rule of law, strong institutions, good quality leadership, the English language, an entrepreneurial culture and an openness to the world in an unmistakably British setting,” he said.
“It is a winning formula and today, these political and economic links are perhaps more important than ever.”
“The UK and Gibraltar are set to leave the EU together and we’re determined to maximise the opportunities that this presents.”
“One thing that will remain constant will be our core belief that the ties that bind us are as solid as the Rock itself and that Brexit can be an opportunity for us to work as closely as we have since the referendum in the years that follow, to deepen that relationship in every respect.”
As has now become customary for any UK minister addressing a Gibraltar gathering, Mr Jenrick repeated the UK’s double lock commitment on sovereignty.
But this year, he not only said that the UK would not change or negotiate Gibraltar’s sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians, he underscored too the UK Government’s hope that Gibraltarians would always remain British.
“You will remain a member of the British family for as long as you wish to and with the full support of Her Majesty’s Government,” he said.
“And of course…we passionately want you to remain so.”
Mr Jenrick said too that the UK valued Gibraltar’s support, adding: “We believe that support is reciprocal and respectful and the best type of enduring friendship.”
That message of support was reiterated too by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who posted a video on Twitter to mark Gibraltar Day.
“The UK and Gibraltar are leaving the European Union but the UK will continue to support Gibraltar’s people, economy and way of life as we’ve always done, regardless of whether we’re inside or outside the EU,” he said in a tweet.