Wales and Gibraltar seek common ground on Brexit
Gibraltar and Wales will work together to find common positions on shared Brexit concerns, Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, said yesterday as he acknowledged the Rock’s “very powerful” voice in Westminster.
Mr Jones was on a working visit to Gibraltar during which he discussed Brexit with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, as well as local business organisations.
"These are uncertain times and it's hugely important as the UK leaves the EU that we have the widest possible consensus on what the transitional arrangements should be and ultimately, of course, what the lasting settlement should be as well," he said.
"In order to do that it's important there is dialogue not just between the governments within the UK itself, but with the Channel Islands administrations, the Isle of Man and particularly with Gibraltar."
"We've identified a number of issues which are common to both of us and it's our intention over the next few months to work together to make sure that the voices of both Gibraltar and Wales are heard loud and clear as the UK enters the negotiating process."
The Chief Minister said the visit – the first by a Welsh First Minister to Gibraltar - was a continuation of the work his government had been doing since the June 23 referendum last year.
He said that while Gibraltar’s main focus was in Westminster and ensuring the UK Government understood and reflected Gibraltar’s position in Brexit talks, it was vital too to build strong relationships with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"We have to be alive to the reality of devolution," Mr Picardo said.
"From Gibraltar, we look at the United Kingdom and we see one unit, but it is unit that has devolved a lot of responsibility to the nations that make up the United Kingdom."
"We have to engage not just with Westminster but also with Cardiff, with Edinburgh and with Belfast on the issues that can produce new opportunities for Gibraltar going forward."
But for all its optimism, the visit offered a close-up insight into the complexities of the Brexit debate in the UK.
Mr Jones told the Chronicle it was “essential” to ensure that the UK Government adopted a negotiating position that leads to a trade settlement that is in the interests of “all the wider British family”, including Gibraltar.
"Essentially it's about avoiding the imposition of barriers where none currently exist," he said. "For us in Wales, access to the single market is hugely important."
But political upheaval meant that UK Government’s position was not clear. That, in turn, made it difficult to find common ground.
"The difficulty is I don't think the UK Government knows itself what it wants and hasn't come to a settled position yet," the Welsh First Minister said.
"Until they do that, it's going to be very difficult for the rest of us to engage with them if we don't know who is actually speaking for the UK Government."
Mr Jones welcomed a statement by Brexit Secretary David Davis last week that the devolved administrations would have to consent to the Repeal Bill.
But he said London had yet to reach out to the devolved administrations and find consensus on key issues relating to devolved responsibilities.
"We've made the point to them that it's in their interest to seek the support of the devolved administrations beforehand and agree a common position,” he said.
"They've not taken up that offer thus far."
"We don't start from a position of trying to undermine their position, but I've made it very clear that if they take a position we disagree with, we'll say so publicly."
"The worst possible outcome for the UK would be Brexit that it objected to strongly by the some of the different nations in the UK, because that may start to undermine the fabric of the UK itself and that's something that I want avoid."
In that context, he observed that Gibraltar was in a privileged position.
"Gibraltar is very powerful in terms of its position vis a vis the UK Government and we want to work with our colleagues in Gibraltar so that we can look to formulate common positions ourselves and of course to express our support for Gibraltar and its constitutional status,” he said.
Mr Jones had previously been highly critical of Prime Minister Theresa May deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Protestant party whose votes give her a working majority of 13 in the 650-seat House of Commons.
In order to secure DUP support, Mrs May agreed to at least £1bn in extra funding for Northern Ireland, something Mr Jones has described as “a bung”.
"I don't think there's any other way of describing it, it's cash for votes," Mr Jones said yesterday, adding that if he was to ask for the same for Wales, "the answer would be no".
"I think that's sad, I think that what it does is it turns people against each other in the UK."
"And at a time when we should be promoting unity of purpose, this has done the exact opposite."
"But where the DUP are concerned, they are experienced negotiators and what we have seen shows their level of skill."
Reflecting on more Gibraltar-specific issues, Mr Jones said it was clear that Spain had seen an opportunity in Brexit to further its aspirations over Gibraltar, “and is looking to take it".
But he added: "The UK Government should not - and I don't believe they will, in fairness to them - take any decision that would undermine Gibraltar's current position and its current constitutional position."
"People in the UK wouldn't wear that anyway."