‘We are not prepared to pay a price for normality,’ says territory’s Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Garcia.
Gibraltar will not be bullied into accepting joint sovereignty between the U.K. and Spain as a condition for being included in a Brexit transition period, the island territory’s deputy chief minister, Joseph Garcia, said.
Spain has sought to reclaim sovereignty over Gibraltar from the U.K. for nearly 300 years, and the EU has effectively given Madrid veto authority over any provisions pertaining to the Rock in a Brexit agreement.
Anxiety among Gibraltar officials has deepened, however, since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in December he viewed that veto power as applying to a transition deal as well.
Garcia, in an interview with POLITICO at Gibraltar House in Brussels, said the territory would not be blackmailed into accepting joint sovereignty — a demand Spain has not issued but many in Gibraltar fear is inevitable. “What we don’t want to be in a position of, is where Spain gives us a price of joint sovereignty for maintaining a relationship with the European Union,” he said. “We are just not prepared to pay the price … We are not prepared to pay a price for normality.”
Gibraltar is one of several side issues in the Brexit process that could prove politically explosive and pose a serious obstacle to the agreement of a formal withdrawal treaty.
Officials on the British overseas territory also complain that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has refused to meet with them — even though he has met on several occasions with some of the most ardent British supporters of Brexit, including Nigel Farage, as well as representatives of devolved nations of the U.K.
Garcia said he sees Spain’s hand in Barnier’s reticence. “I think it’s because Spain does not want us to go around spreading our message,” he said.
In its original Brexit negotiating guidelines, adopted last April, the European Council declared: “No agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.” Asked about the current state of discussions with Gibraltar, a Commission spokesperson, referred back to this provision, adding: “As stated a number of times, there is full support amongst the EU27 for these guidelines.”
In December, after EU leaders gave the green light for Phase 2 of the Brexit talks, Rajoy said he expected the veto to apply to the terms of transition as well. That would suggest that in order for Gibraltar to be included in the transition — after the official Brexit date in March 2019 — the U.K. would have to reach a bilateral agreement with Spain as well as a transition deal with the EU.
In response, Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has declared that the territory retains its own veto power over a Brexit withdrawal treaty by virtue of its constitution and agreements with the U.K. that provide governmental autonomy in many policy areas.
“In circumstances where the withdrawal agreement will cover areas which fall outside of the U.K.’s sphere of competence vis-à-vis Gibraltar, most notably with regard to citizens’ rights … it is for HM government of Gibraltar and not for the U.K. government to agree to and implement in Gibraltar provisions of the withdrawal agreement for which HM government of Gibraltar is exclusively responsible for,” said Daniel D’Amato, a government spokesman. Gibraltar’s concerns are largely related to the movement of people, especially 13,000 EU citizens who work on the peninsula.
Garcia said residents of Gibraltar were dismayed that the EU27 had effectively outsourced their concerns to Madrid, especially because the territory voted so overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.
“I’d say more than sold out, or disenchanted,” Garcia said. “We thought the position taken was a slap in the face to that 96 percent that delivered a vote of confidence in the European ideal.”