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‘We’re very close to the deal’ on Gibraltar - Albares

Archive image of Jose Manuel Albares, Spain's Minister for Foreign Affairs. Photo by Lukasz Kobus/EC-Aduiovisual Service

Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Albares, said this week that “we are very close to the deal” on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the EU.

He was speaking to the Reuters news agency on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"I see a constructive spirit from the British side on the agreement related to Gibraltar," he told Reuters.

"I think we are very close to the deal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but from the meetings I had with (British Foreign Secretary) James Cleverly I see that we both want the agreement and are really working on it.”

He did not give Reuters a timeframe for reaching agreement, however.

"My experience with Brexit is that any timetable has never been respected," he said.

Last December Mr Albares said UK/EU negotiators would meet “as many times as necessary” to achieve the “shared objective” of a treaty that would lay the foundations for an area of shared post-Brexit prosperity between Gibraltar and the Campo.

But he cautioned too that the talks “cannot be prolonged indefinitely”.

He was speaking after the UK, Spain, Gibraltar and the European Commission all publicly reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a treaty “as soon as possible”, despite remaining complex areas of disagreement that have so far made that goal unattainable.

On Wednesday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who had just returned to Gibraltar after meetings in London on the treaty negotiation, also signalled progress in resolving the remaining issues in the negotiation, although he offered little detail.

“I think that we are now converging on where the landing points for all of those particularly concerning issues are,” he told GBC.

But he cautioned too that the discussion touched on issues that were “very, very complex” in order to ensure a deal that was acceptable to all sides.

“As you go through one door and you think that you've converged on one, you go into a room that has 1000 other doors which are now the detail of the things that will be in the treaty which you have to also negotiate so we get right.”

In the House of Commons in London, Leo Docherty, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, reminded MPs that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and his Spanish counterpart, Mr Albares, had last December expressed a joint commitment to work “intensively” to conclude a deal that would “ensure the fluid movement of people and goods” across Gibraltar's land border.

“This will help secure future prosperity for both Gibraltar and the surrounding region,” Mr Docherty said, in response to a parliamentary question on Tuesday.

“The UK remains steadfast in our support for Gibraltar and will not agree to anything that compromises sovereignty.”

Earlier this week, the Cross Frontier Group – which brings together unions and business organisations from both sides of the border - called on the negotiating parties to “immediately” reach an agreement that will lift the uncertainty that communities on both sides of the border have faced for over two years.

The plea was set out in an open letter addressed to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission.

“During the two years that have elapsed since the signing of the ‘New Year's Eve Agreement’, we have followed with expectation the negotiating process to convert that commitment into an international treaty,” wrote George Dyke, the President of the Cross Frontier Group, in the letter sent on behalf of the group’s members.

“However, the successive delays and the scant information received have caused notable unease among the thousands of citizens and businesses, whose future is significantly linked to the achievement of an agreement.”

“The current state of affairs on this matter and the uncertainty caused by the contradictory news emanating from the negotiating process are subjecting the citizens of our area to stress, that we believe should be stopped immediately, through an agreement that allows for the promised and longed-for reality of ‘Shared Prosperity’ and the dismantling of the border crossing for citizens and goods.”

“The entities that make up this Cross Frontier Group are firmly convinced that any scenario without an agreement would be devastating for the interests of the citizens of the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar, and would mean a huge political failure for those involved in the process for which they will have to take responsibility.”

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