Picardo would ‘very much welcome’ a chat with Dastis
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday he would “very much welcome” an opportunity to discuss Brexit with Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, agreeing with La Linea mayor Juan Franco that Spain had softened its tone on Gibraltar since the departure of Jose Manuel García-Margallo.
Mr Picardo told reporters that while Sr Dastis remained firm on Spain’s traditional underlying sovereignty aspiration, his approach to Gibraltar was “materially different” both in tone and substance to that of his predecessor.
Speaking after meeting Sr Franco to discuss Brexit, the Chief Minister said Gibraltar’s position on sovereignty would not change, irrespective of whether Spain’s approach came “in dulcet tones or aggressive tones”.
“We will neither discuss nor negotiate the sovereignty of Gibraltar,” he said.
“But there are many, many things that we have to discuss and consider that could be of benefit the people of Spain and the people of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo said Sr Dastis had “set back” Spain’s co-sovereignty proposal and appeared to be open to exploring other opportunities in the face of Brexit.
“There is a valley of difference between both in tone and substance between what he says and what Sr Garcia-Margallo said,” the Chief Minister said, adding he hoped this would manifest into a deeper understanding of Gibraltar and its people.
And while “the dogma of the Spanish position” might prevent a Spanish minister from talking to a Chief Minister in Gibraltar, Mr Picardo insisted he remained open to dialogue that did not touch on sovereignty.
“I would very much welcome the opportunity to have an interaction with Sr Dastis in relation to these [Brexit] issues should he so wish,” he said.
“I don't think that that needs to be in any way prejudicial to the positions that both sides have traditionally had in relation to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”
“But I do think it is really quite remarkable that in the 21st Century there should be an impediment to people talking, at least on the phone…”
Sr Franco, who has maintained a good relationship with the Chief Minister since his La Linea 100x100 party won municipal elections in 2015, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mr Picardo.
The two men met for over an hour yesterday to discuss Brexit and the impact it could have on Gibraltar and La Linea, in particular at the border.
The Chief Minister said neither Gibraltar nor the UK would take any steps that would impact on border fluidity, in particular for cross-border workers vital to the economic well-being of communities on either side of the frontier fence.
But there is no indication yet as to how the Spanish Government will approach border flow after Brexit.
“We are very concerned as to how this will unfold,” Sr said.
“It's very important to guarantee continued freedom of movement of people and goods across the border, not just for economic reasons but for sentimental and leisure reasons too.”
In common with Mr Picardo, the La Linea mayor said he was hopeful that the change of minister at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid would make it easier to reach pragmatic solution to everyday issues affecting thousands of people.
Sr Franco was careful to stress that he had no competencies in foreign affairs or border controls, which remain the sole responsibility of the central government.
But he left no doubt that he welcomed the arrival of Sr Dastis.
“His disposition appears to be different, much calmer, and it appears he is looking for dialogue,” he said.
“The underlying aim [on sovereignty] appears to be the same, but the attitude is different.”
“Let us hope that translates into facts.”
Sr Franco said he hoped all the government in Madrid sowed “special sensibility” to the issues at the border between La Linea and Gibraltar.
He said it was his belief that it was “complicated, but possible” to find a middle ground between the different positions and interests of Gibraltar, the UK and Spain.
“It's going to be complicated, but I think it is possible,” he said.
“Let us hope sanity prevails.”