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Gibraltar’s chief minister hits out at Tory MPs claiming to defend sovereignty of the Rock

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Published Time: 16.05.2024 - 18:40:53 Modified Time: 16.05.2024 - 18:40:53

Fabian Picardo flew to Brussels on Thursday for the latest round of talks on a post-Brexit deal for the territory with the EU THOMAS JANISCH Gibraltar’s chief minister has hit out at Tory MPs for claiming to defend the sovereignty of the Rock

Fabian Picardo flew to Brussels on Thursday for the latest round of talks on a post-Brexit deal for the territory with the EU

: THOMAS JANISCH

Gibraltar’s chief minister has hit out at Tory MPs for claiming to defend the sovereignty of the Rock.

Fabian Picardo, who flew to Brussels on Thursday for the latest round of talks on a post-Brexit deal for Gibraltar with the EU, told The Telegraph that it was “wrong” to suggest that the deal would “in any way affect British sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over Gibraltar”.

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It comes after Sir William Cash, the Eurosceptic chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, said he was concerned the deal would “erode UK sovereignty to the point of meaninglessness”.

Mr Picardo praised Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, saying he was “very concerned to ensure that he gets absolutely the best possible deal for Gibraltarians”.

In a warning to Sir William’s committee, he said: “They need to understand that this is a deal that needs to be done for Gibraltar, and it’s the people of Gibraltar who will determine whether it is safe and secure.”

“It would be wrong for anybody to pretend to set themselves up as a greater guardian of Gibraltar’s sovereignty than the people of Gibraltar who have been there even in episodes in history where the Conservative party hasn’t exactly covered themselves in glory.”

: JULIAN SIMMONDS/THE TELEGRAPH

Mr Picardo also warned that Brexit had been a big blow for Gibraltar and that those who voted to leave the EU did not consider the impact on the territory “with sufficient weight”.

Discussions have been ongoing between the EU and Britain for months over the way Gibraltar’s border with Spain will be managed now that Brexit has been finalised.

It is believed a deal is close, but MPs on the committee expressed concern earlier this month when Foreign Office minister David Rutley appeared before them and admitted that European judges would be able to rule on disputes involving Gibraltar under the Brexit deal.

In a letter to Mr Rutley, Sir William wrote that the deal would allow “the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of the EU”.

Speaking ahead of his latest visit, Mr Ricardo said: “I don’t know what deal it is that Sir Bill is judging because he hasn’t seen any of the details.

“He’s got only the information that we provided during the course of my various evidence sessions which he received very positively and which he was very complimentary about, and which do not for one moment affect British sovereignty over Gibraltar.

“Because if they did amount to a genuine diminution of British sovereignty over Gibraltar they would not have my support.

“The people of Gibraltar have been very hard hit by Brexit and we have not yet had the worst effects of a no-negotiated outcome on Gibraltar… In my view it is wrong to suggest that this deal in any way affects British sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over Gibraltar.”

He added: “The people of Gibraltar are looking at this from the point of view of wanting to ensure that we avoid the worst effects of Brexit.

“Sir Bill has demonstrated that he has huge affection for Gibraltar and I genuinely believe that when the detail of the deal is understood, it will be easier to make the judgement that will demonstrate that British sovereignty over Gibraltar is wholly secured and is far from being diminished.

“This is a deal that will assist us in ensuring that Gibraltar’s sovereignty continues to be 100 per cent British.”

Diminution of sovereignty

The chief minister said he may appear before the scrutiny committee after the Whitsun recess.

“My obligation is to ensure that I do what the people of Gibraltar have elected me to do, which is deliver this deal in a way which is safe and secure for Gibraltar – and that means secure in the context of sovereignty,” he said.

“I am happy to share those views with the European Scrutiny Committee but they need to understand that this is a deal that needs to be done for Gibraltar, and it’s the people of Gibraltar who will determine whether it is safe and secure.”

He then went on to praise Lord Cameron, who “because he has been prime minister, knows the issue of Gibraltar inside out, and is very concerned to ensure that he gets absolutely the best possible deal for Gibraltarians”.

“I’m not concerned about anything other than doing the best possible deal for Gibraltarians,” he said. “For me the Gibraltarians are the only gig in town.

“Nobody cares about the Gibraltarians and the sovereignty of Gibraltar more than the political leader of Gibraltar.

“It would be wrong for anybody to pretend to set themselves up as a greater guardian of Gibraltar’s sovereignty than the people of Gibraltar who have been there even in episodes in history where the Conservative party hasn’t exactly covered themselves in glory.”

He pointed to agreements made under Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and 1987 which were harmful to Gibraltar’s interests.

Sir William wrote in his letter that the committee was concerned about plans to move the Schengen border – the border at which the EU’s free-movement rules operate – to the airport, allowing European Frontex border guards to deal with travellers from Britain or Gibraltar.

Mr Picardo said: “The border’s not going to move. The international crossing point between Gibraltar and Spain is going to stay where it is.

“The question is whether we do immigration in a different place. We won’t be doing immigration for people who cross from Gibraltar to Spain and the rest of the European Union, and we will only be doing immigration for those who arrive to Gibraltar from third countries on aircraft.

“It makes sense that we should put that immigration point inside Gibraltar airport. We are creating a joint facility which will be equidistantly into Spain and Gibraltar. We will create a common operating space for Spanish and Gibraltar law enforcement. We’ve skinned that cat quite well.”

Common operating space

He added: “It’s not going to be Spanish border force people; it’s Frontex people. France has its own border guards here at St Pancras, the UK has Border Force officers at Gare du Nord, the United States has its border officials at Shannon Airport.”

The chief minister said: “The key issue for us is to leverage the difficulties that Brexit has caused for Gibraltar, to deliver an arrangement that provides fluidity of people across the frontier, and a fluidity of goods.

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