Gibraltar seeking bespoke Brexit deal, says chief minister

By on 13/10/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister

Gibraltar hopes to retain certain EU rights and freedoms after the UK has left the union, its chief minister has said – but not at the price of losing any of its sovereignty to Spain.

Fabian Picardo, who has been in the role since 2011, said yesterday that he accepts that the referendum result has democratic legitimacy, but insisted that the UK should not have to make “a cookie cutter deal” with the EU that applies a single solution to all parts of the UK and its overseas territories.

“[The debate must now] transition to what level of participation the United Kingdom – and with it, Gibraltar – may be able to have in or with the European Union,” he said, speaking at a round table in Brussels that focused on how Brexit will impact on Gibraltar and Northern Ireland.

Some 96% of Gibraltar’s voters backed the Remain side on 23 June, on a turnout of 84% – the highest of any voting district. Its economy, which is based on financial services, tourism and online gaming, depends heavily on access to the single market.

Picardo pointed out that Gibraltar has always had a bespoke relationship with the EU: unlike the rest of the UK, it is not part of the European customs union, and it is exempt from the Common Agricultural Policy. But the Gibraltan leader said that, following Brexit, he’d be willing to consider accepting free movement of goods if the Rock could retain the rights to free movement of people, capital and services across the border with Spain.

However, he was adamant that Gibraltar would not yield to Spain, which at a UN conference earlier this month proposed that the the UK and Spain share sovereignty over the territory and agree to let it remain a part of the EU.

“If you make that the price, and you know what my answer is, I might even be prepared to accuse you of blackmailing,” said Picardo.

Gibraltar’s land border with Spain was closed in 1969 by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and not reopened until 1982. Now, more than 12,000 workers cross the frontier every day.

Julie Girling, Conservative MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, called for the territory’s interests to be represented in Brexit negotiations. Both a politician and a civil servant should be appointed in London, with the job of ensuring the deal is “looked at through the prism of Gibraltar”, she said.

On the topic of Northern Ireland James Nicholson, an Ulster Unionist Party MEP, criticised pro-Leave politicians who have promised to maintain a ‘soft’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic following Brexit. He said he feared this could not be the case if Britain were to leave the Single Market.

“We need a Brexit that works for everyone, and that’s one of the great challenges that lies ahead,” he added. “The interests of the financial services sector will be a priority for the UK government. I just hope they don’t sell everything else down the river to achieve that.”

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See also:

Why the British PM is pursuing a Brexit she doesn’t believe in: Analysis

About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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