The controversial ‘Clause 24’ veto granted to Spain by the European Union in its Brexit negotiating guidelines reflects the “unanimous solidarity” of the remaining EU members with the Spanish position on Gibraltar, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in an interview.
Barnier said he was confident that an agreement would be reached to avoid a face-off over Gibraltar’s inclusion in the transition agreement, but said that without such a deal, the Rock could leave the EU without a cushion period.
“It will be the European Council that has to assess the situation, but normally the transition would not apply to Gibraltar,” he told Spanish online newspaper El Español. “In that case, Gibraltar would go without transition.”
“But I do not place myself in that hypothesis. My scenario is that, thanks to this lever, there will be an agreement between the United Kingdom and Spain. I hope it is like that and it would be positive.”
Barnier was responding to questions on the thorny of Gibraltar’s inclusion in transition arrangements designed to soften the process of withdrawal from the EU. The UK and Gibraltar governments are clear that Gibraltar is covered by the draft withdrawal deal agreed last month, including the transition period.
Not only that, but the Gibraltar Government has not ruled out a legal challenge to clause 24, which it believes to be unlawful. Gibraltar is explicitly included within the territorial scope of the withdrawal agreement and transition arrangements, but they also add an asterisked footnote referencing Spain’s veto.
But Mr Barnier said the veto had in effect given Spain leverage in the Brexit process, adding that this was already being employed. “The 27, unanimously, have given Spain a lever of solidarity,” he told El Español.
“They have warned that this transition period will not apply to Gibraltar without a previous bilateral agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom on certain bilateral issues related to Gibraltar.”
“And that lever is there and the British know it well. And that lever is currently being used, since there is a discussion, which I am told is specific and quite constructive, between the British and the Spaniards on various points in terms of taxation, environment or the operation of Gibraltar airport.”
He added: “The discussions are progressing. And I think that the lever of solidarity that we have given to Spain will be effective.” Mr Barnier said the issues under discussion – the interviewer had mentioned tax transparency, smuggling, “joint use” of the airport and environmental protection – were “reasonable”.
“I work a lot with Alfonso Dastis and with all of President Rajoy’s team and I trust them,” Mr Barnier told El Español. “They have this lever, which is a lever of unanimous solidarity from the other 26 Member States. The British have understood it well and that is why discussions are under way.”