London – The British government has “unequivocally confirmed” that Gibraltar would be included in all future deals agreed by to the United Kingdom following Brexit, including trade agreements with the European Union, according to a senior Gibraltar official.
Gibraltar Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Garcia’s comments in an interview with Al Jazeera came after the issue of Gibraltar was propelled to the top level of Brexit negotiations. This comes following Spain’s threat to oppose a deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU unless it was assured over the disputed peninsula.
Garcia also rejected the claim that Spain will be able to exclude Gibraltar from any post-Brexit trade deal.
On November 20, he argued that the deal was ambiguous on Gibraltar’s future and instead, The Rock’s future should be agreed separately through bilateral talks between the UK and Spain.
Following a letter later published by the British ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, which stated the UK would accept this demand, it seemed Sanchez had achieved his goal.
Barrow’s statement came after European Council and European Commission support guaranteeing that the political, legal and geographical relationship of Gibraltar and the EU would “pass through Spain” after Brexit.
While talks between the UK and Spain will continue to reach a compromise on Gibraltar’s future, on issues such as citizens’ rights and tobacco smuggling, “it is not in either the UK’s or the EU’s interests for the UK, or indeed Gibraltar, to leave the bloc without a deal,” Garcia said.
“The chief minister is therefore entirely satisfied with the fact that Gibraltar will rightly be covered by the withdrawal arrangements including those related to the transition period.
“This will provide certainty and security to businesses, investors and citizens alike.
“Separately, the UK government, and the prime minister herself, have unequivocally confirmed that the UK will negotiate any future trade deals on behalf of all territories for whose external relations the UK is responsible for. That includes Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar was ceded to the UK by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and has remained under British control ever since.
The British ownership of El Penon, as it is known in Spain, has long angered Spain.
The surrounding Spanish province of Andalucia is the country’s poorest, with every province except Malaga exceeding a 40 percent chronic poverty rate.
Gibraltar enjoys the third highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the world and has been used as a catalyst by Spanish politicians to drum up support.
Sanchez’s criticism of the deal came ahead of the December 2 Andalucian Regional Election, which his PSOE party won in 2015.
“We can expect that Pedro Sanchez – or his successor – will keep raising the issue of The Rock periodically,” said Henry Newman, head of the Open Europe think-tank.
“At the moment Sanchez’s minority government faces key elections in Andalucia in early December so a confected row last weekend was perfect political fodder … It changed nothing of substance, however.”
Garcia took a swipe at the Spanish prime minister, saying: “It is true that we have had a lot of heat but not much light from Mr Sanchez in recent days.
“The chief minister was disappointed with the Spanish prime minister’s rhetoric, which he felt was orchestrated for internal political consumption as opposed to representing the genuine line of Spanish centre-left politics which has traditionally focused on cross-border cooperation and the protection of workers’ rights as opposed to taking obsolete, nationalistic positions on sovereignty.”
People in Gibraltar are extremely pro-EU, with over 99 percent having voted to remain in the bloc in the June 2016 referendum, the highest of any constituency in the UK. Its residents have also long demonstrated a desire to remain under British rule.
In 1967 and 2002, they chose overwhelmingly to reject joint-Spanish sovereignty, 99 percent and 98 percent of its population, respectively, voting to maintain the status quo.
Therefore, an unwelcome Brexit and increasingly aggressive Spanish rhetoric have left many concerned for their future.
“Gibraltar has been British now for almost 315 years,” said Garcia.
“In large measures that is due to the courage, resilience and fortitude of its people and their stalwart defence of the principle of self-determination.
“For the chief minister, it is a privilege to protect that legacy and he will not let Gibraltar down in doing so.”