LibLink: Vince Cable: Tories must ditch red lines for the Rock

In this week’s New European, Vince Cable says that the British citizens on Gibraltar must not be sacrificed in the Brexit negotiations.

Clause 24 of the EU 27’s joint negotiating position, published in April last year, included a Spanish veto over the application of any deal between the EU and UK over Gibraltar. Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said it was “plainly obvious” that such a veto would be part of the EU’s negotiating guidelines. Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, described clause 24 as “discriminatory and unfair”.

A footnote to the draft legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement published last month confirmed that this veto would also apply to the transitional period. The Gibraltarian government has rightly pointed out that “by its very definition, transition is a continuation of the existing European Union legal border” and therefore this veto cannot apply.

Spain’s claim to Gibraltar is fatally undermined by the statistic that 98% of Gibraltarians want to remain British and there is no sign of that view changing. The Conservatives’ first act in response to the publication of the joint negotiating position should have been to insist on the removal of clause 24 – instead they gave us a general election that further weakened the Prime Minister’s bargaining power in Europe, because she ended up losing her Parliamentary majority.

Fortunately, Spain’s hard-line stance has slightly softened. Foreign minister Alfonso Dastis has been clear that he doesn’t want a border closure, which last occurred under General Franco in 1969. Such a move would be mutually damaging: disastrous for the 13,000 people who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar and leave the Rock with a staff shortage.

But the veto remains and Gibraltar’s politicians have sounded out legal opinions that would see them take the European Commission to court over clause 24.

Moreover, Spain continues to demand joint control of the Rock’s airport, which is, after all, British infrastructure on British soil. This might seem a reasonable suggestion for a post-Brexit relationship, but this should be seen in the context of even the seemingly reasonable Dastis pointing out that “sovereignty is something we aspire to, that we are not renouncing”.

Control of the airport has been disputed for more than four decades, so it would be optimistic to assume that a satisfactory resolution will be found in the coming months. As Chief minister Picardo, has argued, Spain’s warmer words must be followed up by action, yet the veto remains.

At the time of writing, Picardo was set to lead a Gibraltarian delegation to London to meet with British ministers. Officials believe this is a particularly sensitive moment in negotiations for Gibraltar.

In other words, it is time for the Conservative government to ditch its self-defeating red lines and replace them with a demand that clause 24 is removed from negotiations.

You can read the whole article here. 

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  • David Cooper 9th Mar '18 - 12:43pm

    Why are we exerting ourselves for the benefit of a tax haven which undermines our economy?
    If the people of Gibraltar really wanted to remain British, they would not allow this. If they are content to host a huge online gambling and tax avoidance industry, which undermines our society and depletes our tax base, we should be content for Spain to impose whatever conditions it likes.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Mar '18 - 2:02pm

    An accurate and sensible piece , unlike the response above.

    Why on earth bring up the tax policy, this is about sovereignty and the government of Spain, like that of Argentina, have never in hundreds of years had sovereignty over the people of Gibraltar or the Falklands. Thisis not Catalonian secession from the union of a nation, more akin to the south of the us pre civil war, this is a modern territorial self determination based on near unanimous view of people and hundreds of years of it working and well!

    The EU are lousy on these aspects and we should say so. The party should not be in thrall to top down meddlesome and pointless nit picking. If we had been and if we could be , more feisty with the EU we might convince the public we bat for Britain, and the game is worth being involved in.

  • Peter Martin 9th Mar '18 - 3:46pm

    It’s fair enough if Gibraltarians want to stay British. But how about also making them part of the UK with a MP at Westminster?

  • Arnold Kiel 9th Mar '18 - 5:22pm

    Good luck with “controlling our borders” with that one. A nice showcase of British self-sufficiency, more similar to the big islands north than many like to think. I feel sorry for the poor Gibraltar citizens, who understood and voted 98% remain; but the Brexit steamroller cannot stop or reflect, just power on.

    Clause 24 is just the southern equivalent of the Irish situation. The EU (unlike the UK) will not overrule its members with a UK landborder.

  • nvelope2003 9th Mar '18 - 8:48pm

    It would appear that the Treaty of Utrecht 1713 which gave Britain rights over Gibraltar stated that the sovereignty of the King of Spain would not be infringed. This is rather an archaic matter, Very few of the Gibraltarians are of British descent, most of them and their ancestors came originally from Malta and other Mediterranean lands. Perhaps it is time we said that if Spain gives back Ceuta and Mellila to Morocco then we would give them back Gibraltar. How would the British feel if Poland or Italy claimed rights over Folkestone or Torquay because of some treaty made 300 years ago ? It is all rather silly.

  • David Becket 9th Mar '18 - 11:01pm

    Once again the role of the Lib Dems did in coalition comes up. It is a fact that when you are in coalition you have to give and take. I have been in coalition with both Labour and Tory in local government, and it went well. However you need to establish your red lines from the start. The Lib Dems stopped a number of Tory policies, we have seen that since 2015, and we introduced some good measures. We crossed some red lines that are still causing us problems. The PIP was never a liberal idea, and we should never have supported it. Bedroom Tax, without the condition that you must be offered a suitable property before the tax is applied, is very illiberal. To promise not to bring in Student Loans and not to engage in top down reorganisation of the NHS was also very illiberal. We are still paying for those four main mistakes, and are likely to pay for them for years to come, however much other parties mess things up.

  • We are told that the people of the U.K. voted to take back control of our borders. That seems to be the view of HM government. It is time the U.K. government faced up to the reality, just as the EU are trying to do. If Gibraltar wants to be part of the U.K. it will have a controlled border and if it leaves the U.K. and stays with the EU then none will be needed – although it would then not be the business of the U.K. really. All very simple really.

  • John Marriott 10th Mar '18 - 10:35am

    I tend to agree with Peter Martin on this. Isn’t this what the French do with their former colonies? As for Spain, it has enough problems in its own backyard (Catalonia?). Lorenzo’s comments about Argentina remind me that, if we were prepared literally to go to war over some islands in the South Atlantic which we claimed in the early part of the 19th century, which, as far as I know were not ceded by treaty, then we could at least fight (in diplomatic terms) the case of people whose territory has not been officially part of Spain for over 300 years.

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