Gibraltar will not be excluded from any aspect of the UK’s Brexit negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May insisted again, after the European Commission appeared to indicate that Spain would have a veto on any transitional arrangements covering the Rock.
The UK and Gibraltar insist the Rock is covered by the UK’s Brexit negotiations and withdrawal agreement, which will include any transitional arrangements to soften departure from the bloc.
But Spain is pushing its European partners for a controlling voice on anything related to Gibraltar, in a move that threatens to pitch the UK against the EU on decisions affecting the Rock’s future.
Mrs. May was addressing the House of Commons shortly after the European Commission published negotiating guidelines for the next phase of the Brexit talks.
The guidelines, which are still subject to negotiation and have yet to be adopted by the European Council, reiterate the Clause 24 Gibraltar veto granted by the EU to Spain last April.
That clause states that after withdrawal, no future agreement between the UK and the EU can be applied to Gibraltar without prior agreement between Spain and the UK.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, briefing the seven mayors of the Campo de Gibraltar on the Brexit talks, highlighted agreements on protecting citizens’ rights including those of cross-border workers. But he also stressed Spain’s hopes for bilateral talks with the UK on the Rock’s future relations with the EU.
The EU decision to again refer to Clause 24 prompted a stern reaction from the Gibraltar Government, which accused Madrid of “outright bad faith” in its approach to Gibraltar-related issues within the Brexit talks.
The guidelines do not explicitly set out the EU’s expectations on Gibraltar and transitional arrangements after the withdrawal date, but the Commission is clearly leaning toward Madrid’s stance.
At a press conference in Brussels, the EC’s main Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, was asked whether he expected Spain to agree with the UK before Gibraltar was included in any transition deal.
“We have reproduced in the negotiating guidelines the exact phrase decided upon by the European Council and I can confirm to you that for the transition period, as for the rest, I will work to reach decisions which will be taken by the 27 unanimously and by consensus,” Mr Barnier said.
“We, the 27 members, have – and I will say no more on this issue – always worked striving for consensus and unity and to take all decisions within the framework of this consensus and unity and we will continue to do so.”
“Therefore the spirit of April’s guidelines is reaffirmed on this particular point in the document agreed on today”.
The Commission’s position on Gibraltar prompted a question in the House of Common’s during Mrs May’s weekly question and answer session, highlighting the cross-party backing enjoyed by Gibraltar in the UK parliament and drawing a firm reaction from the UK Government.
Highlighting the “strong affection and support” for Gibraltar in the Commons, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, an MP with the Democratic Unionist Party, did not mince his words.
He asked the Prime Minister: “In light of the guidelines published this morning, will she give a commitment not to enter into an agreement with the European Union that excludes Gibraltar from the transitional or implementation arrangements and periods?”
Even before publication of the guidelines, Mrs May had earlier this week made clear that Gibraltar would be covered by the UK’s Brexit deal. She underlined the point again.
“We and the EU have been clear that Gibraltar is covered by the withdrawal agreement and our Article 50 exit negotiations and just to confirm what I said on Monday, as we negotiate this, we will be negotiating to ensure that the relationships are there for Gibraltar as well,” she said.
“We are not going to exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the future agreement.”
“I can give the honorable gentleman that assurance.”