The negotiation between the EU and the United Kingdom of the agreement on Gibraltar after Brexit "progresses at a good pace" and should not be affected by the pulse that London now has with the bloc in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol. This has been assured by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, José Manuel Albares. "They are separate negotiations even though the same actor is on the other side of the table," he commented at a press conference with his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, trusting that London will attend the talks with the same "constructive and dialogic attitude" with the one the EU does. Albares has revealed that "there are specific texts on the table" and hopes to begin drafting soon with concrete and legal solutions on the important points.
The minister recalled that the European Commission "works closely with Spain" on this issue, since in fact the negotiation is based on the memorandum of understanding signed by the British and Spanish governments on December 31, 2020, which provides for the future abolition of the Gate and transfer the border controls in the Rock to the port and the airport. "We trust that progress will be made as quickly as possible," Albares pointed out, after a new negotiating round took place in London this week, the eighth, between the British Government and Brussels. Both parties had initially given themselves until the end of 2021 to close the agreement, which will regulate Gibraltar's relationship with the EU now that the United Kingdom is not a member state, but given the impossibility of complying with it, they set the first quarter of the year as a goal , a term that has also already expired.
The fear now is that the fight between London and Brussels on account of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was approved after Brexit to avoid a hard border between Ulster and Ireland and which the British Government threatens to abandon unilaterally, could affect the negotiation of the agreement on Gibraltar. In this sense, the Irish minister has also insisted that they are two separate things and has defended that "the best thing" is that it can be maintained like this in the future. Thus, it has demanded that the United Kingdom comply with what it signed after its divorce from Europe. The agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom, "like all international agreements, must be respected", he defended. If necessary, according to Albares, the second would be Spain, "due to the dense social and economic ties" between the two countries. "We would not understand that unilateral actions were taken," the minister assured.
Asked if Spain is prepared for the event that the United Kingdom fulfills its threat, the head of diplomacy has assured that he does not want to consider it "not even as a hypothesis." In any case, he stressed that "Spain is prepared for any eventuality". In this sense, he does not consider London's criticism of Brussels' supposed immobility to be "fair", since it has underlined that the European Commission has offered extensions and exemptions precisely to avoid some of the fears expressed by the Johnson Executive.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabián Picardo, has gone a step further in the optimism with which he has been expressing himself for weeks about the negotiations being carried out by the European Union and the United Kingdom to achieve an international treaty that governs relations between the Twenty-seven and the Rock once Brexit is over. To the point that, in a statement in the Gibraltarian Parliament this Monday, he said that both parties are close to starting to write a draft because there are "clear and concrete proposals on the table". And he has even laid out something like a deadline: according to his perception, it will take two rounds to close it. These "key dates" are expected to be established in early June.
"We have within reach a historic treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union," said Picardo, who believes it would create "renewed optimism in the European idea itself." "It will create opportunities for further economic development for us and the region around us, and perhaps even beyond, across the Straits. I want to make it clear that the shared prosperity we are talking about is about business development, not about Gibraltar paying for the creation or maintenance of Spanish infrastructures", he declared, in relation to the demonstrations by the mayor of San Roque, Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix, he stated: "We need generosity from a Government of Gibraltar that allows public investments to be shared and not only benefit of all public infrastructure actions in Spain. That they cooperate in their support”.
Picardo has explained that the United Kingdom will not sign the treaty without receiving the approval of the authorities of the Rock. And that, before giving consent to the Government of Boris Johnson to ratify it, it will submit the text to an agreement by the Council of Ministers and to an in-depth debate in Parliament in which "the terms and content" will be debated through a motion with the possibility of making amendments.
After confirming that at no time have the European negotiators put on the table any aspect that compromises British sovereignty over Gibraltar, the chief minister referred to the possibility that the disagreement between the negotiators themselves on the border between the two irelands could end up muddy the negotiation on Gibraltar. "It is clear that many external issues have hit our negotiations in the last six years since the result of the Brexit referendum," he said. But, he stressed, "these are completely different negotiations", before recalling that all parties have stated this on several occasions.
In the eight rounds of talks held, explained the chief minister, "all the areas that are the subject of negotiation" have already been covered, the complexity of which he has described as "unimaginable" because it affects all the "basic components of the European Union" to determine "how each of them should be applied to Gibraltar in the future".
Picardo has highlighted the resources deployed by the United Kingdom and the European Union during the negotiation with the best experts in each section, as well as the work of the Attorney General and Chief Legal Adviser of the Government, Michael Llamas, and the advice of the Governor, Sir David Steel . The Chief Minister has also appointed Daniel D'Amato, from the Gibraltar Office in Brussels; the head of the British Mission in that same city, Lindsay Appleby, and the head of the Foreign Office negotiation, Robbie Bulloch. He also highlighted the commitment of the European team led by the Spanish Clara Martínez Alberola, and explained that, during this time, "a solid relationship" has been established with the representatives of the Spanish Government.
In the last four weeks, Picardo has reported, significant progress has been made. "Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and at this stage we cannot say that a text has been finalized. We are simply refining principles in great detail," he said.
"In many areas, we have already reached consensus around basic principles that allow us to continue towards a full agreement", continued the head of the Gibraltarian Government, who acknowledged that "the main problem has centered on the mobility of people" , taking into account that "the delicate balance reached in the New Year's Eve Agreement" had to be put into practice, but it is not the only one that remains to be achieved.
Picardo explained that, according to that agreement, Spain is responsible for the controls on people seeking to enter the Schengen zone through Gibraltar through the La Línea border crossing. "For the first four years at least, it will carry out those checks with the assistance of Frontex. However, the question is how to do it in a safe and pleasant way for Gibraltar and the UK, as well as Spain and the EU, from the first day. Of course, we have to deal with many years of disputes and restrictions, etc., as we evaluate each other's position."
"The location and manner of carrying out Schengen controls has been a key issue throughout the negotiation. That means working to agree in detail where the relevant people will be, what they will do and to whom they will do it. The key, however, is that there will be no such controls on the border between us and Spain. That is to say, where controls are currently carried out, there will be none. That will put an end, forever, at least during the period of application of the Treaty, to queues and border controls as we know them today. Of course, we also want these issues not to create unnecessary additional burdens for passengers arriving at the airport and the Port of Gibraltar," he said. The main minister has defended the confidentiality of the negotiation as essential to reach agreements in a process that "depends on discretion in order to be successful".