Spain would ‘likely press reset’ on treaty talks if GSD wins, Alliance says
Spain would “very likely simply press the reset button” on the UK/EU negotiation for a Gibraltar treaty if there was a change of government on Thursday, the GSLP/Liberals said on Monday.
The Alliance has made Brexit a central theme of its election campaign from the outset and on Monday sought to underline its message that now was not the time to change Gibraltar’s negotiating team.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference, GSLP leader Fabian Picardo said he believed Spanish negotiators would “test the mettle” of any new negotiators on the Gibraltar side by seeking to reopen complex elements of the negotiation that have already been agreed.
He said Spanish officials know what each party in Gibraltar stands for and what each candidate has said in the past.
“They do an X-ray of each of us in the context of those negotiations,” he said.
“And they understand that Joseph Garcia, Fabian Picardo and the people that we represent will not move one iota on any issue which relates to sovereignty.”
“[If there is a change of government] they will test whether their views are right by seeking to go back on issues that we have already closed in the negotiations, where we have been intransigent on issues because they touch on sovereignty as far as we are concerned.”
And he added: “It's very clear to us that the Spanish side of this negotiation would very likely simply press the reset button in order to test the new Gibraltar negotiating team to try and see whether they might be able to take concessions from them.”
“This would cause unnecessary delay.”
“It will require the recommencement of the negotiation and that would be bad for Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo, sitting next to Liberal Party leader Dr Joseph Garcia, dismissed as “untruths” GSD electoral messaging that the Alliance government had failed in its handling of Brexit, including not delivering a treaty for Gibraltar seven years after the 2016 referendum and even as the UK secured its own agreement.
Mr Picardo and Dr Garcia said this ignored the facts of what had happened since 2016.
Dr Garcia sketched out a timeline since 2016 and said that in that time, the GSLP/Liberals had secured access to the UK services market, thereby protecting Gibraltar’s UK-facing business and opening up new opportunities; ensured home fees for Gibraltar students in the UK and access to NHS healthcare; ensured Gibraltar’s inclusion in the Withdrawal Agreement and the transition period, meaning departure from the EU was cushioned; negotiated a framework agreement that laid the foundation for the treaty talks; and completed 14 formal rounds of negotiation toward a treaty that is close to being finalised.
And he added too that there were numerous other challenges during that period, not least Covid-19.
“It's impossible to have done more,” Dr Garcia said.
“We have delivered and protected the position of Gibraltar at every stage.”
“There have been successful outcomes for Gibraltar at every phase of the negotiation, and our objective continues to be to keep Gibraltar safe. So we ask you to let us finish what we started.”
Mr Picardo said GSD leader Keith Azopardi had shifted position in recent weeks on key aspects of the Brexit issue.
He cited as an example that Mr Azopardi had said in the past that a GSD government would undo the tax treaty that was negotiated with Spain as part of the Brexit process since 2016.
The GSD believes the tax treaty is “harmful and intrusive” and that the New Year’s Eve framework agreement is “flimsy”, but said in recent weeks that it would not undo either of these and would continue the negotiation given the bigger prize of the treaty.
“It is remarkable that, given how serious the issues Gibraltar is facing in an international level, Mr Azopardi should have had different points of view on these issues,” Mr Picardo said.
“They should have understood the importance of it from the word go.”
And he dismissed a key GSD criticism that his government missed an opportunity to secure enduring mobility rights for Gibraltarians when the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated.
The GSD says that while the Withdrawal Agreement protected cross-border workers employed here at the time of Brexit, it did not secure enduring mobility rights for Gibraltarians.
That analysis, Mr Picardo said, was wrong.
“It's not just wrong, it's a complete misunderstanding of what the Withdrawal Agreement could do,” Mr Picardo told reporters.
“The Withdrawal Agreement was about the rights of those who were exercising EU rights at the time of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
“And Gibraltarians had the same rights and have the same rights as any other EU citizen.”
“The idea that the EU would have allowed the Withdrawal Agreements to contain any forward-looking rights is for the birds.”
“It was unnegotiable throughout because the EU's mandate with the UK, not just with Gibraltar, was that the Withdrawal Agreement was only about withdrawal and not about anything going forward.”
“And therefore it dealt with the acquired rights of people who were exercising EU rights, not prospective rights.”
“So that is really the snake oil salesman's attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the people with Gibraltar, using prejudice against cross-frontier workers in order to light the fuse.”
And while the UK had agreed a future relationship with the EU and left Gibraltar out of it, that agreement did not address any of the issues that concerned Gibraltar.
“In fact, it does the opposite,” Mr Picardo said.
“The UK agreement with the EU is for there to be no free movement of persons between the EU and the UK, and for there not to be free movement of goods between the UK and the EU, just tariff free access to each other's markets.”
“What we are seeking to negotiate is the complete opposite.”
“Of course, it's much easier to negotiate an agreement that does not include free movement of persons and does not include free movement of goods.”
“The complexity is to agree that from scratch.”
The GSD, Dr Garcia added, displayed “…a deep lack of knowledge and of understanding of the central issues that are involved in this.”