EU and UK clash over post-Brexit plan for Gibraltar

It looks like a rocky road lies ahead for ‘the Rock’ as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar is affectionately known by locals
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By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a Brussels-based journalist and copy editor

23 Jul 2021

The European Commission’s draft mandate for the negotiation of an EU-UK agreement on the future relationship between the Union and Gibraltar, unveiled on Tuesday, was swiftly rejected by London as directly conflicting with what had been previously agreed in the run up to the Brexit trade deal at the end of 2020.

Unveiling the proposals, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, co-chair of the Joint EU-UK Committee and Partnership Council, said, “by putting forward this draft mandate, we are honouring the political commitment we made to Spain to start the negotiations of a separate agreement between the EU and the UK on Gibraltar.”

“This is a detailed mandate, which aims to have a positive impact for those living and working on either side of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, while protecting the integrity of the Schengen Area and the Single Market.”

The EU and the UK had agreed to leave Gibraltar out of the “territorial scope” of the Brexit trade deal they reached on 31 December last year, and, on the same day, Spain and the UK reached a political understanding about negotiations for a separate EU-UK agreement on the British overseas territory that would be negotiated, “without prejudice to the issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction,” and focussing on regional cooperation.

The former chair of the European Parliament's UK (Brexit) Coordination Group, German centre-right MEP David McAllister welcomed the draft mandate, reiterating that, “Gibraltar was not included within the scope of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

“I welcome the Commission’s recommendation which builds upon the political understanding reached between Spain and the UK on 31 December 2020, establishing a framework for an EU-UK agreement on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU” Former chair of the European Parliament's UK (Brexit) Coordination Group, David McAllister 

“I welcome the Commission’s recommendation which builds upon the political understanding reached between Spain and the UK on 31 December 2020, establishing a framework for an EU-UK agreement on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.”

McAllister added, “The recommendation includes safeguards as regards the respective legal position of Spain and the UK on sovereignty and jurisdiction issues and focuses on cooperation in the region.”

But London reacted negatively to the draft post-Brexit plan, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issuing a statement saying, “The UK, with Gibraltar, and Spain carefully agreed a pragmatic Framework Agreement, in full consultation with the EU Commission. The Commission’s proposed mandate directly conflicts with that Framework.”

Raab also claimed that the draft mandate, “seeks to undermine the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar and cannot form a basis for negotiations.”

“We have consistently showed pragmatism and flexibility in the search for arrangements that work for all sides, and we are disappointed that this has not been reciprocated. We urge the EU to think again.”

Raab’s sentiments were echoed by the government of Gibraltar with Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo saying, “In many respects the mandate strays unhelpfully from the Framework Agreement agreed by the UK and Gibraltar with Spain on 31of December last year.”

“The draft EU mandate is a matter for them (the EU and UK), of course. But I must say that based on the current draft, there is no possibility of this forming the basis for an agreement. We will work closely with the United Kingdom, especially Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to continue to seek the best possible outcomes for Gibraltar” Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo

“The draft EU mandate is a matter for them, of course. But I must say that based on the current draft, there is no possibility of this forming the basis for an agreement. We will work closely with the United Kingdom, especially Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, to continue to seek the best possible outcomes for Gibraltar”.

Neither Raab nor Picardo went into detail on how the draft mandate differed from the agreements agreed in December 2020, but in an article in the local daily Gibraltar Chronicle, the main opposition party, the Gibraltar Social Democrats were quoted as stating on Thursday that, “Any deal designed along the basis of this mandate would deliver major political and economic competences and controls to Spain.”

“It would undermine our rights as a people as well as our sustainability and ability to run our affairs. It would in effect give Spain a legal and economic role in our affairs.”

Another sore point from London’s and Gibraltar’s point of view are border control issues. The draft mandate explicitly names Spain as the responsible party, rather than the EU’s border agency Frontex, as London and Gibraltar believe had been understood.

Instead, the draft mandate sees Frontex’ role as an accessory “With regard to external border control, in circumstances requiring increased technical and operational support, any Member State, including Spain, may request Frontex assistance in implementing its obligations.”

The Gibraltar Chronicle quotes the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi as saying, “There is no way a deal can be done on that basis as Spain could control what and who comes in and out and what happens politically or economically. This would be as good as handing the keys of Gibraltar to Spain and leaving us to their mercy.”

In a referendum in 2002, Gibraltarians overwhelmingly, with over 90 percent of the vote, rejected a proposed shared sovereignty of the territory with Spain. But in the 2016 Brexit referendum they voted equally overwhelmingly for the UK to remain in the EU.

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