Sir Joe and Sir Peter believe safe deal is possible
Two of Gibraltar’s former Chief Ministers, Sir Joe Bossano and Sir Peter Caruana, have said the political framework agreement announced on New Year’s Eve could set the foundation for an enduring treaty that is safe for Gibraltar and guarantees border fluidity after Brexit.
Speaking to GBC over the weekend, both men said it was still early days and that the detail of any legally-binding treaty that flowed from the framework agreement would need to be carefully negotiated and assessed.
But both believed it was possible to reach a deal that did not overstep Gibraltar’s red lines on sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.
Sir Joe said he and fellow cabinet ministers had been briefed throughout the negotiating process and had agreed at each stage that the talks should continue.
"We have been involved after every meeting where something else has been added or taken away," he told GBC.
"Then Fabian [Picardo] and Joseph [Garcia] have come back, reported and we've discussed it and we've decided whether he could continue or we should pull the plug."
"This is how the negotiations have been done."
Sir Joe said nothing had been conceded in the negotiations and that the "fundamental red line" for Gibraltar was that it would not accept a Spanish presence at the airport or the port.
Sir Joe said he would rather have a closed border than see Spanish officers in Gibraltar and that people should not be concerned because “all that we're talking about is what may be possible.”
"What we've got at the moment is an understanding of what the treaty will reflect, which is acceptable to us and acceptable to Spain, although it will not be an agreement with Spain, it will be an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union," he said.
And he later added: "This is not binding, it may not happen, and therefore it cannot be a sell-out of anything, because Spain can change its position between now and the signing of the agreement, and so can we and so can the UK, in theory.”
"When the final agreement is written in a legally-binding legal text which will be signed by the European Union and by the United Kingdom, and where therefore we have got a legal obligation, then if there's anything there that gives up any of our sovereignty or would be a breach of sovereignty, no agreement that does that would be signed by the United Kingdom, and if they wanted to sign it, we would not approve it being signed."
Sir Joe added that treaty or no treaty, Gibraltar should work to ensure its economy was self-sufficient in the future.
For his part, Sir Peter said the development was “hugely positive” but that “the devil will be in the detail.”
"The government will know what Gibraltar can bear and not bear in such an agreement, and we've just got to trust the government, give them the space to negotiate in the next months and we'll all form our views about the agreement as and when it emerges,” Sir Peter told GBC.
"But on balance, and certainly my personal view is, it was absolutely necessary for the government to make every possible effort to avoid a hard Brexit at this border."
‘TRUST AND SPACE’
Sir Peter said Gibraltar would have to weigh up “the prize against the price” but that the Gibraltar Government had “a shrewd idea” of what was viable and what was not.
And he stressed too that a hard Brexit, while “survivable”, would have "grave" implications for Gibraltar.
"It would have considerable implications for our economic prosperity, for our quality of life, for the general economic prosperity of Gibraltar, and avoiding that has got to be placed in the balance against the need to strike agreements necessary to avoid that,” Sir Peter said.
"I can understand that people in Gibraltar may have developed some concern and alarm bells might have started ringing when people have heard this business about Spain being responsible for Gibraltar in the context of the Schengen agreement."
"But it doesn't have to be like that. We have to await the detail to see how that's going to work."
"There are versions of that which are wholly acceptable, in my opinion. There will be versions of it which will not be acceptable, in my opinion."
"And I think the government needs to be given time to deliver the version that is acceptable."
And he added: "It's very important for Gibraltar. If it can't be, it can't be. But it's right to try it."
Sir Peter said Brexit had unleashed “a seismic change” in the European political landscape and that it was unrealistic to believe Gibraltar could retain all its advantages without reaching an agreement to avoid the consequences of that disruption.
"We will have to pay a price, you don't get anything of value for nothing," he said.
"But I think it can be done for a price that we should all feel is worth paying, and that is what the government has got to do and will no doubt work at trying to achieve in the next six months."
"They've got to be given time and the opportunity to do that."