Spain has formally asked Britain to reopen talks over the sovereignty of Gibraltar. The petition was made by Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo shortly after UK Europe Minister David Lidington told an audience in Madrid that Britain would not discuss sovereignty against Gibraltar’s wishes.
Garcia-Margallo called an unscheduled meeting with Mr Lidington on Wednesday and set out Spain’s position. He said the Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy wanted “...progress in everything related to Gibraltar, which must include dialogue with the UK on issues of sovereignty,” according to a statement issued by the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Minister Lidington’s response came on Thursday during a question and answer session on Twitter, during which he fielded a number of questions on Gibraltar. On two occasions he summed up the UK position within Twitter’s 140-character limit.
“The UK will not enter into sovereignty arrangements or negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content,” Mr Lidington tweeted. And again: “The UK’s sovereignty commitment to the people of Gibraltar is clear and unchanged: we will respect their wishes.”
At first glance the two positions look sharply at odds, but both ministers left room to manoeuvre.
At one point in the Q+A session, Mr Lidington made clear that this was not a choice between protecting Gibraltar’s interests or maintaining good relations with Spain.
“UK [is] committed to safeguarding Gibraltar’s interests & continuing to work closely with Spain. This is not ‘zero sum’,” he tweeted.
Likewise in the statement, the Spanish Foreign Minister made clear that, despite its position on Gibraltar, Madrid wanted “the best relations” with Britain. But he insisted that any bilateral discussion on sovereignty with Britain “must have no limit on its content”.
During their meeting on Wednesday, Garcia-Margallo also told Lidington that Spain wanted to change the format of the Trilateral Forum and “expand” it to include representatives from the Campo de Gibraltar and the Junta de Andalucia.
Spain sees this as a way of keeping sovereignty issues separate from matters of regional cooperation.
On Thursday a spokesman for the Gibraltar Government told Europa Press news agency that it was up to Spain who it included in its delegation.
“The Government of Gibraltar backs the Trilateral Forum and is willing to discuss all issues of cooperation within it,” the spokesman was reported as saying. “The composition of the Spanish delegation is a matter for the Spanish government.”
The spokesman added that the same principle applied to the UK and Gibraltar governments.