Countdown to Brexit: 93 days – On the second day of Christmas, Brexit gave to me…

…Gibraltar. Okay, so we aren’t exactly true loves – and it isn’t exactly a gift as yet - but Spain has made it clear that the Britain’s long-time sovereignty over Gibraltar is open for discussion under the terms of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU has stoked the debate by excluding the territory from the no-deal contingency planning.  A separate statement by the European Commission reads: “As of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom [from the EU on 29 March 2019], all applicable EU law will cease to apply to the UK and to Gibraltar.  As a consequence, contingency measures addressing the United Kingdom will not apply to Gibraltar.”

Spain – having tried for centuries to reclaim sovereignty of the Rock – have welcomed the EU stance on the British Overseas Territory and its exemption from no-deal planning.  Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has said that Madrid will revive its bid for shared sovereignty over Gibraltar once the UK has left the European Union.

Sanchez has claimed that Spain’s position over Gibraltar - which has been a British territory since 1713 - was stronger after Brexit.  The move has cross-party support as the Popular Party - Spain's opposition - will present a motion in the Spanish senate calling for co-sovereignty of Gibraltar.  Jose Ignacio Landaluce, PP senator for Algerciras, said: "The news of Gibraltar being excluded from a no-deal Brexit is good if it favours Spain."

Gibraltar – with 94% of voters in favour of “remain” in the 2016 referendum - had the biggest majority in the United Kingdom against Brexit.

On 29 November 2018 the governments of the UK and Spain - together with the government of Gibraltar - concluded 4 ‘Memoranda of Understanding’ on Gibraltar.

These underpin the Gibraltar Protocol – which took up a significant part of the 585 page “Withdrawal Agreement” negotiated between the UK and the EU.

The 3 governments have also agreed to conclude a tax agreement covering tax transparency and cooperation.

Together with the Protocol on Gibraltar, the 4 Memoranda form a package of agreements between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar that reflect the commitment of each to future cooperation

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar of her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, in a press release said: “Throughout our history we’ve stuck with Britain.  After Brexit, we will stick with Britain in the future too.  This is our most important relationship.  And as the UK establishes new trading relationships around the world, we look forward to the opportunities that will come from the benefits of our common language, our common law and the ties that bind us with the Commonwealth of nations around the world.’”

Speaking to the Parliament of Gibraltar, Picardo said it was important to send a “clear message to anyone in Spain who thinks there is the possibility of any proposal for sovereignty to prosper.  Gibraltar will not yield. We will not bend. We will not get tired”.

The 4 ‘Memoranda of Understanding’ on Gibraltar – according to a UK Government press release - are the: “result of constructive discussions between the governments of the UK, Gibraltar and Spain on the practical implications of EU exit for Gibraltar.”

They cover issues that are important to everyone, including:

  • citizens’ rights

  • cooperation on environmental matters

  • cooperation in police and customs matters

  • tobacco and other products

The UK signed the Memoranda in its capacity as the State responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations.  The Memoranda reflect our shared desire to work together in a spirit of trust and solidarity, and support the shared prosperity and security of Gibraltar and the neighbouring area.”

Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar in its statement: “The deep and unbreakable bonds that bind the United Kingdom and Gibraltar together have not in any way - and will not be in any way - be diluted as a result of our common departure from the EU.  Brexit will have no effect on the British sovereignty of Gibraltar and the waters that surround it.”

Gibraltar leaves the EU at the same moment as the United Kingdom - despite having voted overwhelmingly to remain.  The relationship with Britain that guarantees Gibraltar’s: “security, prosperity and the certainty of the rule of law.”

Gibraltar is being excluded by the EU from a number of offers to Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit that would see sea and air transport continue between the UK and the Continent and ensure that financial services – which have largely been excluded from the withdrawal negotiations and are vital to Gibraltar’s economy -  are not faced with a cliff-edge on 29 March 2019.

In this, the EU appears to be supporting the Spanish position as Madrid continues to insist that it will not tolerate the Rock benefiting from any agreements made in the without Spain’s explicit consent – with Prime Minister Sánchez tweeting that “our positions remain far away”.

Not quite a gift…but the matter is far from settled.

John ShuttleworthComment