The EU Withdrawal Agreement [“WA”] is a bad deal for Gibraltar. It allows Spain a voice in our domestic affairs and a measure of control over these.
The GSLP/Liberals have given away Gibraltar’s biggest bargaining chip by allowing frontier workers to be protected beyond the transition period and got nothing permanent in exchange. The set of arrangements in the MOUs are bilateral. They fail to recognise Gibraltar’s separate right to conclude political agreements over these matters.
In any event it cannot be in Gibraltar’s interests to leave the EU so any Withdrawal Agreement is worse than remaining in the EU.
Mr Picardo’s tactics in cheerleading for Mrs May are questionable and his presentation of the MOUs is Orwellian, made up of spin and distortion.
A few days ago, a Spanish military vessel entered our waters blaring the Spanish national anthem. The Vice President of the European Parliament [also Spanish] tweeted in support. Are these the shape of things to come under the cooperation regime agreed by Mr Picardo in the MOU on the Environment and passage of ships in our waters?
The WA is a bad deal for Gibraltar because:
- The Protocol envisages bilateral UK-Spain committees to deal – in effect – with Gibraltar domestic policy matters, with disputes lying to EU-UK committees.
- The Protocol and MOUs that underpin it home in on issues of tobacco, tax and the environment in language that enshrines in international agreements long-standing Spanish complaints as if these could be justified. They refer several times to “fraud”or “smuggling” or “money laundering.” Why is the GSLP/Liberal Government endorsing that enshrinement of language?
- The MOUs that underpin the agreement were concluded bilaterally. They were signed by the Spanish Foreign Minister for Spain and by the UK Deputy Prime Minister for the UK. This is an abandonment of the gains made by Sir Peter Caruana that political agreements [like the MOUs are] should be trilateral. The UK-Gibraltar Concordat does not cure this. In effect the MOUs and the structures created by them are no better than the two flags three voices formula of the early 1990s which the GSD rejected in office.
- In substance the MOUs will allow encroachments into our domestic affairs by Spain. Any disagreement in respect of detail will then be kicked up to a so-called Specialised Committee set up under the WA which we will not control. This Specialised Committee will resolve disputes. In practice matters will be taken out of our hands and we could be told what to do on matters concerning our waters, the environment, fishing, tobacco or petrol.
Spain has fully protected its frontier workers in the process, but we have not got a permanent gain in exchange.
There can be little doubt that these concessions hand to Spain influence and some control over aspects of our affairs. It is striking that the Protocol and the MOUs say that they are without prejudice to the respective parties’ positions on “sovereignty and jurisdiction” but do not also mention “control” – a word that Mr Picardo has included in the majority of his public statements.
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said:
“All this has been given in exchange for a 21-month transitional deal at the end of which we will be out of the EU if a future relationship is not agreed. But even though the bulk of the MOUs will lapse at that stage the MOU on Citizens Rights that protects Spanish frontier workers will not. Frontier workers will be protected beyond December 2020 even if we find ourselves outside the EU with a hard Brexit. In effect therefore we have given up the biggest bargaining chip that we had in negotiations for a future relationship with the EU for nothing permanent in respect, for example, of freedom of movement at the border.”
Apparently a tax agreement also forms part of the deal. But this has not been published. It forms an integral part of this package, so it should be published and before the UK Parliament vote on the deal. The business and financial services sector in Gibraltar will want to know what Mr Picardo intends to agree given Spanish historic and unjustified criticism of our finance centre.
Apart from that the tactics and presentation of the deal by the GSLP/Liberal Government arequestionable. Mr Picardo has become Mrs May’s biggest and almost only cheerleader. The FirstMinisters of Scotland and Wales think the Withdrawal Agreement is a bad deal and so do the DUP in Northern Ireland – Mrs May’s coalition partners. Mr Picardo has even taken to the UK national press to urge UK MPs to back her overall deal. This is a mistake because first the WA is not a good deal for Gibraltar. It is better to remain in the EU. Secondly given the political uncertainty in the UK that may even lead to events supporting a better deal for Gibraltar – like remaining in the EU or aPeople’s Vote on whether to remain it is premature to take that stance. Thirdly it risks alienating the apparent majority of UK MPs who appear to be against the WA and any future Prime Minister or UK Government.
In Gibraltar Mr Picardo’s presentation of the deal has almost been Orwellian. While the UKand Spanish Government have published the MOUs on their websites in their concluded form Mr Picardo has added a cover sheet to each MOU when putting it on the Government website which puts his particular spin on the deal.
This page which purports to be a “Notes for Interpretation” of all the MOUs is in fact not part of the MOUs at all. These “Notes” are drafted to suggest either that the MOUs are between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar – which is not true – or that the Notes are agreed between Spain, the UK and Gibraltar – which cannot be true either.
The inclusion of this cover sheet on the MOUs published in Gibraltar is unilateral by the GSLP/Liberal Government and is intended to give a loaded and distorted reading of the documents agreed. It is unacceptable in principle that the Government should resort to this or give the impression they are part of the MOUs. People in Gibraltar should be allowed to make up their own mind as to whether the MOUs are good for Gibraltar without twist and spin.
To make matters worse, the Citizens’ Rights MOU “Notes” cover sheet is also completely wrong in suggesting that what has been agreed expires in December 2020. The reverse has been agreed. This is clear from Article 185 of the WA. The GSLP/Liberal Government should remove the cover sheet immediately, publicly admit this distortion and apologise to the people of Gibraltar. It is the equivalent of a Government press release and no more. It has no status as an agreed note of interpretation of the MOUs. It is simply not agreed.
All of this may be academic because the WA may not make it through Parliament on Tuesday 11 December or in a subsequent vote but what is clear is that this set of arrangements can hardly be proclaimed in the euphoric terms done so by Mr Picardo.
The only way to have presented this is as a deal for Gibraltar containing elements we do not like, which may be better than no transitional deal at all. The people of Gibraltar could then decide whether they are prepared to pay that price. But in practice this is a short-term extension of EU law in exchange for which we have permanently protected frontier workers and allowed Spain a say in our domestic affairs with no longer term gains for Gibraltar.
Given those issues of content, structure and presentation the GSD cannot back Mr Picardo’s deal as good for Gibraltar. It is a bad deal whether or not it makes it through the UK Parliament.