The European Commission has made clear that Gibraltar is part of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations and that Spain’s additional veto only applies in respect of the UK’s future arrangements with the EU.
That position was stated explicitly in a parliamentary response from Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to a question from UKIP MEP William (The Earl of) Dartmouth on the EU negotiating guidelines.
The guidelines contain a clause giving Spain a second veto over the application to Gibraltar of any future agreement between the UK and the EU.
Mr Dartmouth wanted to know why the guidelines “…showed no respect for the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, even though 96% of them voted to remain in the European Union.”
Mr Juncker did not respond to that specific question, but his answer is important nonetheless because there is a perception in Spain that the veto applies to the withdrawal phase of the negotiations too.
When Prime Minister Theresa May published the UK proposals on citizens’ rights recently and included specific references to Gibraltar, sections of the Spanish media – though not the Spanish government – reacted furiously.
Mr Juncker said Gibraltar would leave the EU alongside the UK and that the veto did not apply as that withdrawal was negotiated.
“Gibraltar is one of these territories and therefore bound to leave the European Union together with the United Kingdom,” Mr Juncker said in his response.
“What is referred to in the guidelines of the European Council of 29 April 2017 [that Mr Dartmouth] mentions does not relate to the withdrawal negotiations with the United Kingdom, but to the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom,” he added.
The position as set out by Mr Juncker has been the UK and Gibraltar governments’ interpretation of Clause 24 from the outset.
Despite the reaction in the Spanish media to the UK’s citizens’ rights proposal, the Spanish Government has largely refrained from public comment other than to say it does not want Gibraltar to become a central issue in the Brexit talk.