EU vows not to go soft on Gibraltar issue, as territory insists it is ‘not a bargaining chip’

Senior EU diplomats said the bloc will not back down in its support for Spain’s demands when it comes to the Rock of Gibraltar in Brexit negotiations, but the the territory's chief minister insists 'we want to stay British'

3 April 2017, 8:06am
The European council said Gibraltar could only be included in a trade deal with Spain’s agreement
The European council said Gibraltar could only be included in a trade deal with Spain’s agreement
The EU will not back down in its support for Spain’s demands when it comes to the Rock of Gibraltar in Brexit negotiations, senior European diplomats have said.

The European council, whose members comprise the EU member states, shocked Downing Street by saying the British overseas territory could be included in a trade deal between London and Brussels only with Spain’s agreement.

The EU proposed on Friday offering Spain a right of veto over Gibraltar's future trade relations with the bloc. That would give Madrid sway over the fate of the enclave once Britain has left the bloc and the status of its overseas territory is no longer an internal EU matter.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, but has long called for it to be returned.

On Sunday UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain was "steadfast" in its commitment to Gibraltar and would work with the territory to secure the best possible outcome from Brexit talks.

A former Conservative leader waded into the row by claiming that May would be prepared to go to war to protect the territory as Margaret Thatcher once did for the Falklands. In comments that were immediately criticised by Labour and the Lib Dems as inflammatory, Michael Howard said there was “no question” of Britain weakening its stance with regards to the sovereignty of one of its overseas territories.

“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman Prime Minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current Prime Minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar,” Howard told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News.

However, according to the Guardian newspaper, senior EU diplomats have dismissed the suggestion that the EU will go soft on the issue of Gibraltar in the coming weeks, and warned that Spain had spent time and effort in cultivating support among the other 26 member states on the position.

“Spain are taking this very, very seriously,” one diplomat said. “I think there is support across the board among the member states. Why not?

“It is not a problem that was born yesterday. It has been with us a long time and we have always listened to both sides. Now we are going to support the member state. That is the philosophy behind it. I wouldn’t think any of the 26 other states will somehow try to undermine this clause.”

Yet, Gibraltar said it will not be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over Brexit. Its chief minister Fabian Picardo said the message that "we want to stay British" needs to be clear in every capital of the European Union.

"Let us be very clear and let the message be clear in Madrid, in Brussels and in every other capital of the European Union. Gibraltar is not a bargaining chip in these negotiations. Gibraltar belongs to the Gibraltarians and we want to stay British," Picardo has said

Gibraltar has accused Spain of manipulating the European Council for its own political interests.