Sep 20 - Chief Minister’s Statement To Parliament On Progress Of Ongoing Brexit Negotiations
The Chief Minister gave a statement to Parliament earlier this afternoon on the progress of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Here’s the full text:
Thank you for your leave to make a statement to update the House on the progress of the ongoing Brexit negotiations for Gibraltar’s departure from membership of the European Union with the United Kingdom.
As Honourable Members will already know, the Deputy Chief Minister has convened a further informal meeting of the Brexit Select Committee of this House for tomorrow.
This will be the 12th such meeting; resulting in at least as many hours of confidential briefings.
At these meetings Honourable Members have been briefed in careful detail about the ongoing discrete contact that the Government has had in the context of these negotiations.
These contacts include discussions with Spain in its capacity as one of the remaining 27 Member States of the EU.
Mr Speaker I addressed the Nation on the 28th March this year, one year before the date when our departure from the EU will be legally effective, in order to set out as much detail as I could then of what the EU discussions were likely to entail.
I told the Community then that we were entirely confident that the Withdrawal Agreement must and will fully apply to Gibraltar.
I am even more confident now that this will be the case.
That means that any mechanisms agreed between the UK and the EU for orderly withdrawal and continued market access will fully cover Gibraltar and that we will enjoy continued access to the EU Single Market until at least the end of the transition period.
The work that the Prime Minister is doing in Salzburg today will, I sincerely hope, also move the United Kingdom and the EU closer to such arrangements. And in that context, we have also sought to establish new lines of cooperation with the EU and, in particular, with the neighbouring Member State, Spain.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, successive Governments of Gibraltar have sought such a relationship.
And we have done so without the need for any compulsion or threats of veto.
We have done so because the people of Gibraltar have consistently sought good neighbourly relations and we have consistently sought to demonstrate our belief in the European ideals.
That has always been our nature.
And that is the work that we have been trying to discretely do.
The Partido Popular administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took two distinct approaches to the Brexit negotiations.
The first approach was spearheaded by Jose Manual Garcia Margallo in his time as foreign minister after the result of the EU referendum.
He stated that the position then of the PP Government in Spain was that Gibraltar would have to accept the Joint Sovereignty proposals we had rejected in 2002 if we wanted a future relationship with the European Union.
When he was replaced by Alfonso Dastis, the position of the PP, set out by the new Minister and by Prime Minister Rajoy himself, was that Spain would not be seeking to advance its sovereignty claim in the context of the Brexit negotiations for the Withdrawal Agreement.
Indeed, in my statement in March I said that our people would have heard, and I quote:
“repeated statements from Spanish ministers setting out that sovereignty is not a matter they are seeking to raise in Brexit discussions.”
I said also that I knew we would all welcome that; although would be sceptical and alert to ensure that remains the position.
We have been.
I am also pleased to be able to tell the House, Mr Speaker, that the position of the PSOE administration of Pedro Sanchez has not changed in respect of the issue of sovereignty.
That is to say, the position of the Spanish Government has not changed in this respect in relation to the negotiation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Honourable Members will therefore have been surprised to see some Partido Popular politicians in the past 48 hours suggesting that it has been a PSOE decision not to attempt to progress the sterile Spanish sovereignty claim.
The fact is, Mr Speaker, that there has been no attempt to advance that sterile claim either under the PP or the PSOE in the context of these exit discussions.
If there had been, every one knows that the answer from us, on behalf of the whole House and Gibraltar as a whole, would have been firm, clear and absolutely negative.
We have had to be careful, of course, to ensure that the ingredients of sovereignty, including jurisdiction and control, have also been clearly understood not to be negotiable.
And in that carefully circumscribed context we have advanced in respect of those areas denominated as ‘irritants’ by some.
As I said at the time of my statement in March, we have considered matters related to the unlawful suspension of Gibraltar Airport from the European Civil Aviation rules despite the Cordoba Agreement of 2006 in respect thereof and the £84m airport that members opposite built pursuant to it.
We have also considered other matters of lower political profile.
I - our removal from unfairly compiled and maintained Spanish tax haven blacklists and better cooperation between our tax authorities, as we have been proposing for years under successive Gibraltar Government administrations;
II - better traffic flows at the frontier;
III - cooperation on police and customs matters including curbing cross frontier smuggling in both directions and how best to ensure that we discourage illict trade in specific items subject to excise and special duties and
IV – better environmental cooperation, especially in relation to air quality and the protection of the environment in the region of Gibraltar and territory made up of the municipalities of the Mancommunidad de Municipios of the Campo de Gibraltar as a whole.
I also said in March that I was unable to say more about the structure and the detail of the discussions we are engaged in.
I said that I was unable to do so without endangering the real opportunities for progress that we had identified and not out of a desire not to be totally open with our Community – although we would of course be fully briefing Cabinet Ministers and elected Opposition members.
Well, Mr Speaker, I do not feel that the time is yet right for me to be able to say more.
But I will say this to the House and to the Nation:
Everytime that the term “bilateral talks between the United Kingdom and Spain in relation to Gibraltar” is wrongly attributed, both the United Kingdom and Gibraltar Governments have repeated that such a description of the discrete discussions that are ongoing is not accurate.
Both Governments have repeated that there is no such separate bilateral process in relation to Gibraltar between the United Kingdom and Spain.
And although I will not say more, I know that everyone in this Community will have heard the statements from the former Prime Minister of Spain, Mr Rajoy, about discussions with Gibraltar, at the end of a European Council meeting in the spring.
A transcript of his remarks published in various national and international media (and in a video) reads as follows:
“The conversations with Gibraltar will not deal with the issue of sovereignty because one thing is Brexit and another is that we maintain our position, as could not be otherwise and as everyone understands,” he said, when asked if Spain had now left the issue of sovereignty “totally to one side”.
“Right now we are talking about Brexit and the issue of sovereignty is not being addressed here.”
I think it is important that these words be recorded in hansard for posterity, or, indeed, “perpetuity”, which may be a more appropriate word.
Additionally, just this week, the current Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, has spoken candidly about these discrete discussions in a breakfast forum in Madrid.
His remarks have been widely reported.
A transcript of his remarks published in various national and international media reads as follows:
“The EU is negotiating, through Mr Barnier, the conditions of the UK’s withdrawal and has stated that in order for the withdrawal agreement to be applied to Gibraltar, this must be through a bilateral agreement between Spain and Gibraltar that we are negotiating,” Mr Borrell said. “Even though [Mr Barnier] is not part of that negotiation, he is following it closely and he knows that without agreement on this, there will be no agreement on Brexit.”
“As the Brexit negotiator, he is the first one to be interested in us reaching an agreement.”
“That’s what we’re working on and I think we can be optimistic...and I believe we are very close to a solution for the withdrawal agreement.”
“What we are negotiating is not the return of Gibraltar to Spanish sovereignty, or the sharing of that sovereignty, but the conditions under which the withdrawal agreement can be applied to the territory of Gibraltar on very specific issues...” he said. “The President of the Government [of Spain] told Mr Barnier yesterday that Spain’s goal is that the agreement with Gibraltar should not be the last obstacle on the road but rather the first step toward the withdrawal agreement.”
“In other words, that we should not get to the end and be in agreement on everything except Gibraltar, but that the agreement on Gibraltar should be the first step toward the final Brexit agreement.”
Again, I think it is important these words should be recorded in Hansard.
Mr Speaker, as to the substance of the discussions, it is fair to say that we are not dissatisfied with progress.
There is a long road still to go.
But, like the Spanish Prime Minister is reported to have told the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Mr Barnier, we too hope that matters related to Gibraltar might be the first element of the Withdrawal Agreement and the future arrangements to be agreed in a positive spirit of cooperation between the UK and the EU, and between Gibraltar and the Member State that is our closest neighbour, Spain.
And that means that we would likely be finalising a differentiated deal to that of the rest of the United Kingdom as we leave full membership of the European Union.
Some thought that would not be possible.
Indeed, some thought that we would be wrong to pursue such a solution.
Yet today, some twenty-six months on, I am able to tell you confidently that the need for such a differentiated solution has been understood as much in London as it has Brussels and in Madrid.
Today I am optimistic that we will soon not hear more of sterile vetoes when it comes to Gibraltar and our future relationship with the EU.
I sincerely believe that we will be able to talk about a future for Gibraltar which provides not just for a continued, enduring, political relationship with Britain.
But also of a continued, enduring, political relationship with Europe.
Considerable work has been done by the team I assembled in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, to seek to secure the realistically deliverable opportunities that arise in the context of BREXIT.
There is no deal to announce yet.
There is not yet any definitive text beyond the Withdrawal Agreement to pour over that can be published.
But there is an element of goodwill.
There is understanding of what no deal can mean for the whole of the Campo de Gibraltar also.
And I believe that there is a desire to see a future relationship which provides certainty to residents of Gibraltar and to citizens of the Union.
Certainty in protecting established rights.
Certainty of frontier fluidity.
And certainty in ourcontinued relationship with Britain.
But Mr Speaker, as ever when it comes to international treaties in relation to Gibraltar or indeed anything else, the devil is in the detail.
And we will remain entirely vigilant that there should not be any attempt to try to advance in areas of sovereignty or other unacceptable aspects of what might eventually be agreed or the form in which it might be agreed.
That would never be acceptable to any Government of Gibraltar or to this Parliament.
But we will continue to seek a future in which Gibraltar will continue to have a relationship with the European Union that will deliver prosperity not just for us, but for all the Campo around us also.
Already we have seen our commercial access to the United Kingdom markets assured.
We have seen health, education, gaming and financial services access secured as a result of the work we have done with the UK government.
Now we hope to be able to say more in coming weeks of what else we have been able to secure for the future.
Mr Speaker, it is important that I should record the thanks of the Government for the work that is being done by the Government’s Brexit team.
In particular I must record the thanks of the Deputy Chief Minister and myself to the Attorney General whose EU expertise is unrivalled and who has been a huge asset to the Nation at this time.
The Financial Secretary is sharing also in some of the work that is being undertaken.
Also alongside them are many other members of our public sector who have been called upon to assist us in the preparations and progress of these discussions in the different relevant areas.
I also want to thank members opposite Mr Speaker who make up the Brexit Select Committee for having respected the confidentiality and integrity of the briefings to date and for their constructive comments in this House about the work that the Government is doing, in particular Mr Feetham and Ms Hassan Nahon.
Finally, Mr Speaker, it is expected that the final arrangements between the UK and the EU will be finalised in coming weeks. At most, it would appear that eight weeks is now the limit for reaching a potential Brexit General Affairs Council of the European Union in mid November.
We will be involved in continuing discussions and meetings of variable geometry between now and then. We will therefore not be able to hold monthly meetings of the House in that period.
At this same time, we will be attending the annual political conferences of the political parties in the UK as well as the meeting of the 4th Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
And throughout this period we will be at what one might call “Peak Brexit”.
Those who are addicted to the twenty four hour news cycle should be ready for many ups and downs and many peaks and troughs and, indeed a little bit of drama.
And we must all keep in our minds that this process is a negotiation that has been visited upon us all not by any action or desire on our part, but by the decision of the British people, at the suit of Brexiteers, to leave the European Union.
Today, after questions, I will move into bills as it will be necessary for me to take a number of Bills on the Order paper, some of them, if possible, before the end of September.
The House will then resume for consideration of Bills and after that will then resume for questions as soon as possible.