Britain will maintain Gibraltar’s existing access to the UK financial services market and broaden it where possible, a British Government minister told the House of Lords on Thursday, as he insisted sovereignty was “simply not on the table” in the Brexit process.
Robin Walker, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, also said the UK would take into account Gibraltar’s priorities as it negotiated post-Brexit trade deals around the world.
And while Britain would seek “pragmatic solutions” to ensure fluidity at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, Mr Walker repeated the UK’s double-lock commitment to Gibraltar and made clear a discussion about sovereignty “isn’t on the cards”.
Addressing the Gibraltar Inquiry of the House of Lords’ EU Select Committee, Mr Walker noted that the tone in Madrid had changed after the departure of former Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo.
Spain’s new foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis Quecedo, had taken “a pragmatic and constructive approach” on Brexit, he said, adding that Prime Minister Theresa May had also held a “positive” meeting with Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy last October.
“I’m confident that the government in Madrid is squarely behind the objective of achieving a positive relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit,” Mr Walker said, adding that the relationship between Britain and Spain had many factors other than Gibraltar, including extensive trade and tourism links.
In respect of Gibraltar, he said the focus should be on “the pragmatic benefits” to economies on either side of the frontier of ensuring border flow.
“But we also have to be clear that a discussion about sovereignty simply is not on the table here,” he said. “That’s something that I think the EU institutions will understand and respect, and the other EU states will understand and respect.”
“It’s very important that the UK engages positively with Spain bilaterally, that we engage positively across the EU, but we have to make clear in advance that a discussion about sovereignty simply isn’t on the cards.”
Mr Walker said “one of the most striking bits of evidence” provided by the Gibraltar Government to the British Government was the importance of the UK market to the Rock’s economy. In financial services, for example, 90% of Gibraltar’s business is with the UK.
“It’s important that we work together to maintain and strengthen those ties,” Mr Walker told the Lords’ committee.