Picardo: Nothing will cleave Gibraltar from the UK
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Madrid has called on Slovenia, which holds the bloc’s rotating six-month presidency, to rush through the wrangling over the UK-EU treaty covering the Rock. The issue of the British overseas territory was raised on Monday during a meeting between Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares and his Slovenian counterpart Anze Logar. Mr Albares said: “I have expressed to my colleague my desire that the presidency pushes for the approval of the negotiating mandate for an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom on Gibraltar, so that it is adopted as soon as possible.
“For us, for Spain, this is evidently a priority issue.”
The European Commission published a 26-page proposal for the EU’s negotiating guidelines in late July but it must be approved by the European Council before the talks can begin.
The draft mandate sparked fury in Gibraltar and Britain after Brussels suggested Spanish border guards could be deployed in the region for the first time in more than 300 years.
In a provocative move, the EU, backed by Madrid, ignored a provisional agreement thrashed out between the British and Spanish governments last year over the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar.
Senior EU diplomats are currently pouring over the EU plans before giving Commission negotiators the go-ahead to attempt to secure a deal.
On Monday, Mr Albares held a meeting with Spanish MPs to discuss the post-Brexit talks over Gibraltar.
The foreign minister noted that the UK was Spain’s fifth-largest partners and “one of our main interlocutors” outside of the EU.
He insisted that the future of the Rock, which Spain has constantly claimed sovereignty over since it was handed to Britain as part of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, was a huge part of his recent discussions with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Mr Albares said: “Over the coming months, we will follow this negotiation very closely.
“The final agreement must have Spain’s prior approval and I can assure you that our country will only accept an agreement that adequately protects our interests and our position on sovereignty.”
The Spanish government is under pressure from conservative politicians to use the post-Brexit talks to bolster Madrid’s influence over Gibraltar.
Maria Martinez Ferro, a Partido Popular MP, said: “I’m asking because, as far as we know, which is always through the media, you have accepted that Frontex be the ones to guard the frontier, the port and the airport in Gibraltar, which makes us question whether this is the firm position that Spain should maintain in a historic negotiation.
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“So tell us, specifically, will there be Guardia Civil officers guarding the Spanish frontier, yes or no?”
Mr Albares said he had travelled to London to meet Mr Raab and confirmed that Madrid “has the final say” over any agreement on Gibraltar.
“I think it was a very positive trip,” he said.
“The UK knows perfectly well that Spain has guarantees on the application of the community acquis and in the way in which the Schengen area will be accessed through Gibraltar, because the frontier will be moved from the fence to the port and the airport, and because at every step it is Spain that is driving this and, as such, we can do nothing but welcome that.
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“Above all, it is the municipalities and all the people who will benefit from an area of shared prosperity who welcome this. That area of shared prosperity is what we are striving for and I am sure that you will be too.”
After the EU published its negotiating mandate in July, Mr Raab accused Eurocrats of failing to respect an 11th-hour deal struck between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve over the region’s future.
In a 26-page document, EU leaders, backed by Madrid, called for a string of conditions on the British Overseas Territory.
They include EU border guards at Gibraltar’s port, airport and in its waters to enforce the bloc’s rules.
Brussels also wants Gibraltar to remain inside its single market, and follow tax rates set by Madrid.
The document states: “Spanish border guards would have all necessary powers to perform border controls and surveillance.”
Mr Raab said the draft mandate was not a basis for negotiation.
He added: “The UK, with Gibraltar and Spain, carefully agreed a pragmatic Framework Agreement, in full consultation with the EU Commission.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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