The events of the last few days have demonstrated that we must remain vigilant in all negotiations affecting Gibraltar, that Spain has not changed one iota its stance towards us and that UK assurances while strong on sovereignty also reveal that their national interest and objectives are different to ours.
This last weekend we have seen the undignified spectacle of Spain attempting to hold hostage all other EU States over Gibraltar. It was not that long ago when we were being told that everything had been agreed with Spain and that they would not be blocking the deal over Gibraltar. How things change.
The GSD position on the withdrawal agreement is well known. We have made clear that we would suspend our judgment on whether it was a good or bad deal for Gibraltar until all Gibraltar documents were published. Despite our offers of help the Government decided to go it alone in those talks and we have not had any effective participation in achieving a good agreement for Gibraltar. That was of course the Government’s right and decision. For the moment therefore we will carefully evaluate the agreements that are reached and make clear whether, in our view, these represent a good or bad deal for Gibraltar.
We do have our immediate and initial misgivings. As to whether Spain have been given far too much of a say in our domestic affairs, whether the agreements are essentially bilateral and Gibraltar has made concessions watering down the achievement of trilateral talks by Sir Peter Caruana and whether in essence we have received very little in exchange for what we have given. After all Spain has apparently protected its frontier workers and on top of that managed to exert pressure on tobacco and petrol prices and get a deal on the environment and tax. Are these encroachments into our domestic affairs worth paying for simply a transitional arrangement of 21 months. As I say it is too early to reach conclusions and we will not rush to judgment.
We do note however that Mr Picardo is fast becoming the sole “UK family”cheerleader of Mrs May and the deal. The Prime Minister’s deal is apparently rejected by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister of Wales has said the Brexit deal doesn’t work for Wales. The DUP from Northern Ireland – coalition partners of Mrs May – are against it. And so are the Labour Opposition and prominent sectors of the Conservative Party. And yet here in Gibraltar Mr Picardo would have you believe it is a wonderful deal. You would be right to be sceptical especially in the wake of last weekend’s events. Perhaps it would be easier to be less sceptical if the Government’s presentation were less euphoric. If what we were being told is that this deal is better than crashing out with no deal that is one thing. But to be told that this deal is a great deal for Gibraltar is a massive stretch of the imagination. For now as I say and pending our full evaluation we simply do not subscribe to that euphoria.
All that aside Mr Picardo can be assured of one thing. We stand with the Government on the fundamentals of protecting our Gibraltar from any Spanish threats. Quite frankly the political discourse from Mr Sanchez or the PP of Mr Casado or Mr Rivera’s Ciudadanos has been indistinguishable in recent days. It is deeply regrettable that supposedly modern politicians are waving the intransigent nationalism of the past as if the era of human rights and self- determination had not happened. Ultimately all Spanish politicians who play that strategy have the certainty that they will alienate generations of Gibraltarians in the same way their predecessors have.
We must also be conscious as a community that the UK’s national interests are different to ours. While the sovereignty assurances of Mrs May were very welcome the UK is leaving the EU on a clear basis that is contrary to our own stated objectives. Mrs May stated on Sunday that she was aiming to achieve an end to freedom of movement “once and for all.” This is precisely the reverse of what we wish to achieve at our frontier. She also said that she wanted to achieve for the UK a future outside the single market. Equally this is contrary to our own stated ambitions. These are political realities.
We have no idea whether Mrs May will get her deal through the UK Parliament. Even if she does there will then be a long road ahead fraught with difficulty so as to negotiate a future relationship with the EU. On that road we must be imaginative and bold in pursuing our goals. They are different to those of the UK as represented by Mrs May but we must not be scared of disagreeing with the UK like we weren’t scared of disagreeing with Tony Blair and Jack Straw in 2002. Our future depends on it. If we get to that stage a future Gibraltar Government
should not simply hang on to the UK’s negotiating stance because it is differentto what we want. We will need to clearly articulate a different set of objectives for a uniquely drawn arrangement with the EU that respects our wishes.
Of course the Withdrawal Agreement may not even get through the UK Parliament. So we must continue to plan for a no deal Brexit. And even if it doesget through at this stage what is clear from the EU’s negotiating position on thefuture relationship is that they have adopted the stance that there can be no future agreement with Gibraltar without Spanish prior consent. That is not a position subscribed to by the UK or Gibraltar but it is another political reality nonetheless. We would therefore do well to prepare that there may be a hard Brexit for Gibraltar – if not now then maybe in two years’ time. That will bring opportunities as well as challenges and we in the GSD are confident that Gibraltar can safely navigate those waters with skill if we get things right.
Much will happen in the swiftly developing political canvas over the next fewweeks. If events were to develop in the UK so as to make a People’s Vote a realitywith a choice between backing this current deal and remaining in the EU then as we have already made clear the GSD would support that as it may represent the best opportunity of seamlessly overcoming all these difficulties.
For our part you can rest assured that the GSD will work tirelessly to defend your interests to ensure we get the best deal possible if the UK leaves the EU. We will not shirk from calling a spade a spade. And if at the next election you entrust us with the role of spearheading those negotiations we will not falter in our defence of our homeland.