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Sanchez says treaty negotiators ‘very close to historic milestone’ agreement

Photo via Congreso de los Diputados

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said negotiators for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar were “very close” to an agreement that would be “a historic milestone” in Spain’s relations with the Rock.

Mr Sanchez said agreement could be reached “in the coming weeks”, although he made the statement several hours before UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a July 4 general election.

While negotiations can continue despite the election campaign, any agreement will almost certainly have to be delayed until after July 4.

Mr Sanchez made a brief mention of the Gibraltar negotiation during an address to the Spanish parliament in which he announced that Spain would recognise Palestinian statehood on May 28. Ireland and Norway made the same announcements on Wednesday.

Mr Sanchez also defended his wife, Begoña Gómez, as “honest, serious and responsible” and said he was convinced the courts would dismiss a claim by Manos Limpias alleging conflicts of interest, adding “there is only mud”.

The passing reference to Gibraltar came after last week's high-level meeting in Brussels between the Foreign Ministers of Spain and the UK, José Manuel Albares and Lord David Cameron, along with the Vice President of the EC Maros Sefcovic and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“During this period we have also reached important agreements on Gibraltar with the European Commission and the United Kingdom,” Mr Sanchez said.

“Agreements that make us think we are very close to achieving a historic milestone on this issue that will bring more legal certainty, more economic opportunities, and more everyday conveniences to the inhabitants of the Campo de Gibraltar.”

“As of today, what the parties are doing is continuing to negotiate, and I trust that we will reach a comprehensive agreement in the coming weeks.”

In his first reply, the Partido Popular leader Alberto Nuñez Feijóo did not mention Gibraltar, something he was later taken to task for by Mr Sanchez.

“You tell me that I do not speak about Gibraltar,” Mr Feijoo said, responding in his second intervention.

“You do not speak about Gibraltar, even though you said you were appearing to talk about Gibraltar.”

“When you want to inform me about something, I will tell you what I think about Gibraltar.”

“But let me tell you this: Will there be comparable taxation? Will there be adequate protection of the internal market? Will there be effective control of the Schengen Area? Will there be a fight against tax fraud and money laundering? Will the rights of Spanish workers be equal? Will the environment be respected?”

“If you can guarantee all of this, call me. If not, do not rush, Mr. Sanchez.”

The only MP to reflect on the Gibraltar negotiation at any length during the debate was Aitor Esteban, leader of the Basque National Party [PNV], who encouraged Mr Sanchez and his government to continue with the talks in pursuit of an agreement that benefited the Campo de Gibraltar and its inhabitants.

“The recurring frictions of the past and the consequences of Brexit must be addressed,” Mr Esteban said.

“And the reality is the clear and resounding desire of the Gibraltarians to remain a distinct community, a unique community of very diverse origins, forged in 300 years of autonomous life.”

“The agreements reached should have their backing, as should always be the case.”

“Adhesions to a country are voluntary. Forced ones do not work in the long run.”

“Neither there, nor in Catalonia, nor in the Basque Country, nor anywhere else.”

“And if some in this Chamber consider it scandalous that British sovereignty extends to the Rock because, as is often said here, it is national territory, what they should do is…hold the King accountable.”

“Because, after all, the United Kingdom gained possession of the Rock with the acquiescence of the first Bourbon, Philip V, in exchange for establishing his dynasty on the throne.”

“This is how the Bourbons established themselves in Spain, with the signature of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of Succession.”

Responding to Mr Esteban, Mr Sanchez said agreement had already been reached on general political lines including on removing the frontier fence, “joint use” of the airport, goods and mobility.

He said Spain’s position on sovereignty was unchanged.

“We are still working intensively to ensure that the freedom of movement of people and goods is done with the necessary guarantees and without distorting the internal market, which, as you will understand, is very important for everyone and particularly for the Campo de Gibraltar,” Mr Sanchez said.

“We are working to establish an area that guarantees prosperity, confidence, and well-being for the 300,000 Spaniards in the Campo de Gibraltar.”

“The Popular Party has been fully informed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as have the rest of the political parties.”

“Minister Albares has spoken on two occasions with the President of the Junta de Andalucía, has met with the mayors of the Campo de Gibraltar up to four times, with the Junta de Andalucía as well, to explain the progress and answer their questions.”

“In any case, we will wait to see exactly what the outcome of all these matters will be.”

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