UK 'absolutely steadfast' on Gibraltar as EU signals Spanish Brexit veto
The UK Government has reaffirmed its “absolutely steadfast” support for Gibraltar after the European Council's guidelines for Brexit negotiations appeared to offer Spain a veto on the Rock’s future.
The draft guidelines published by Council president Donald Tusk state that after Brexit, “…no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Spain, like every other EU member state, already had a veto on the deal for the UK future relationship with the EU, so in that respect the guideline says nothing new.
But in singling out Gibraltar, the Council appears to be siding with Spain’s argument that Gibraltar is a bilateral matter for the UK and Spain, despite the British Government’s insistence that the Rock’s future is part of the wider negotiations.
The developments brought an angry reaction from the Gibraltar Government, which said Gibraltar had been “shamefully” singled out for unfavourable treatment.
The guidelines, which were leaked on Friday morning, have yet to be formally adopted by the EU’s 27 members.
But even in their draft form, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the move was discriminatory and “unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable”, adding that this was a “predictable machination” and part of the reason why Gibraltar had overwhelmingly backed Remain.
“Gibraltar’s record as a member of the EU is an exemplary one and our people enthusiastically supported continued membership of the EU in the referendum,” he said.
“Yet this draft suggests that Spain is trying to get away with mortgaging the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar to its usual obsession with our homeland.”
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own narrow, political interests.”
“Brexit is already complicated enough without Spain trying to complicate it further.”
Mr Picardo added: “What we are seeing is a clear manifestation of the predictably predatory attitude that we anticipated Spain would seek to abusively impose on its partners, as they have been threatening to do since the referendum took place and as the only member of the EU with an obsession with Gibraltar.”
“This will surprise no-one. Spain has been holding the whole EU to ransom on aviation matters for the past five years in respect of Gibraltar airport. The whole world and the whole EU should know: this changes nothing in respect of our continued, exclusive British Sovereignty.”
“The fact is that during and beyond the Brexit process, Gibraltar will continue to grow and prosper economically and will, paradoxically, provide wealth for the whole Spanish region around us.”
Responding to the reference to Gibraltar in the guidelines, a UK Government spokesman repeated statements made by Prime Minister Theresa May to the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“We are absolutely steadfast in our support of Gibraltar, its people and its economy,” Mrs May said at the time.
“We have been firm in our commitment never to enter arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”
“We are clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations. We have committed to involving Gibraltar fully in the work that we are doing.”
This afternoon, the Prime Minister was urged to take action to protect the interests of Gibraltarians.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake said the clause showed the UK Government's Brexit strategy was potentially damaging to the future of the Rock.
Mr Brake said: "Confirmation that Gibraltar's future must be agreed by the UK and Spain shows just how damaging the Government's hard Brexit will be on this strategically-important British territory.”
"Theresa May must urgently produce a plan that protects the citizens of Gibraltar, including their businesses and communities.”
"It is our obligation to support our overseas territories, and any attempt to brush off the importance of this issue is a dereliction of duty by the Government.”
"Only the Lib Dems are fighting against hard Brexit, and to keep the UK's place in the single market."
Conservative MP Bob Neill, a long-time supporter of Gibraltar, said: "Gibraltar's friends in the UK will be watching this very carefully. There will be no sell out."
The Tory chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, Jack Lopresti, said: "It's predictable that given Spain's previous behaviour, they would try and use Brexit as a fig leaf for troublemaking over the status of Gibraltar.”
"It is shameful that the EU have attempted to allow Spain an effective veto over the future of British sovereign territory, flying in the face of the will of the people of Gibraltar.”
"The UK Government's position is clear and will stand. There will be no negotiation over the status of Gibraltar."