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Spanish Foreign Minister’s ‘throwaway’ remark raises hackles in Gibraltar

Eyleen Gomez

A ‘throwaway’ remark about Gibraltar by Spain’s Foreign Minister during a wide-ranging interview on a Spanish radio station raised hackles in Gibraltar on Tuesday and drew cautionary reactions from both the Gibraltar Government and the GSD,

Interviewed on Cadena Ser, Arancha Gonzalez Laya spoke of the challenges ahead for her ministry, including the Brexit negotiations and the need to discuss “…a new status for Gibraltar between Spain and the United Kingdom…”

The remark was in response to a question about speculation that she might be earmarked for a top job in an international body, and she was not probed on Gibraltar specifically during the course of the 10-minute interview.

But the reference to “a new status” and bilateralism was sufficient to generate unease in Gibraltar.

The Gibraltar Government said it was “concerned” by the remark, particularly because Mrs Gonzalez Laya has spoken positively in the past about the “style, manner and tenor” of the discussions to come.

“She has taken a position which has not been hostile to Gibraltar [and] that has been very welcome by my government,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“Her reference [on Tuesday] in a throwaway line, as she enumerated a list of matters which she has in her pending in-tray as minister, came alongside speculation that she might move on to a senior role in the World Trade Organisation.”

“It was not a policy position being expressed in answer to question on Gibraltar.”

“Nonetheless, it must be clear that Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar will not leave unanswered any suggestion, however tangential, that the ‘status of Gibraltar’ can be negotiated ‘for Gibraltar’ by any parties other than by the Government of Gibraltar.”

“It is certainly unacceptable to Gibraltar to suggest that any such ‘negotiation’ could be ‘between Spain and the United Kingdom’.”

Mr Picardo said he had been clear in his desire to be proactive and positive in the Brexit negotiations and in ensuring that Gibraltar reaches new arrangements to preserve and enhance mobility as much as possible, securing the prosperity of Gibraltar and the neighbouring region.

“But let us be very clear about one thing: I will be negotiating for Gibraltar,” he added.

“No one else is democratically empowered to do so and no one else can agree anything for the people of Gibraltar with any democratic credibility.”

“Proposing the return of old style bilateralism between Britain and Spain in respect of Gibraltar in relation to the negotiations of the deals to be done for the post-Brexit future is an antidote to democratic legitimacy and it will not be a persuasive tool in the discussions to come.”

The initial reaction in Gibraltar to the minister’s comment came from the GSD, whose Leader Keith Azopardi said Gibraltar must to be careful that the Brexit process does not erode the many decades spent defending the Rock’s right to self-determination.

In a statement in response to her comments, the GSD said the future of Gibraltar can only be decided by its people and discussed by its elected representatives.

“We do not know if this has already been raised with London or with the Gibraltar Government or this is simply a statement of pure aspiration from the Spanish Foreign Minister,” Mr Azopardi said.

“Clearly no-one will have learned the lessons of the past if there is an attempt at the bilateral negotiation of anything affecting Gibraltar or touching upon our status, sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.”

“We would expect the Gibraltar Government to be alive to all this and to ensure that no process is undergone, under the guise of a Brexit discussion, that allows any bilateral negotiation and still less agreement affecting our status.”

“Our future can only be decided by us. We need to be careful that decades of defending our right to self-determination is not eroded in any Brexit process.”