Spain won't 'jeopardise' Brexit deal to regain Gibraltar sovereignty
Spain will not seek to block a Brexit agreement by attempting to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar, the country’s foreign minister has confirmed.
Alfonso Dastis allayed fears Gibraltar could be used as a pawn in Brexit discussions, saying Spain would not “jeopardise” a future deal by demanding a change in status to the British overseas territory.
His comments follow rising tensions after Brussels negotiation guidelines indicated that Spain would be given a veto on whether the Brexit deal could be applied to the rocky outcrop ceded to Britain in 1713.
Theresa May reacted in April to the suggestions by insisting Gibraltar’s status was not up for discussion during a withdrawal deal.
Now Spain’s foreign minister has said that while he placed “great importance” on the issue, “which takes the form of a Spanish demand for the completion of our territorial integrity”, he would not block a Brexit deal in order to secure it.
Dastis told the Spanish newspaper ABC: “We will try to convince the Gibraltarians that [joint sovereignty] is a route worth exploring and that it would benefit them, too.”
However, he added: “But what I don’t want to do is jeopardise an EU-UK agreement by subjecting it to a need to alter Gibraltar’s status at the same time.
“I won’t make an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom conditional on recovering sovereignty over Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar is home to 30,000 people who overwhelmingly say they identify as British. It automatically joined the European Union in 1973 at the same time as Britain, though it did not become part of the customs union.
The territory’s initial inclusion in draft negotiation guidelines issued by the European council president, Donald Tusk, earlier this year caused fury on the Rock, which accused the EU of bullying.
May’s response at the time was to say the government was “steadfastly committed” to the people of Gibraltar, 96% of whom voted to remain in the EU.
The former Conservative leader Michael Howard suggested May would be prepared to go to war to protect the Rock as Thatcher did over the Falklands in 1982.
Spain’s King Felipe sparked anger during a state visit to the UK last month by stating in a speech to parliament that the “two governments” of his country and Britain would find a solution on Gibraltar’s future that would be “acceptable to all involved”.
A joint sovereignty proposal would give Gibraltarians dual Spanish and British nationality. However, 99% of the territory’s residents previously rejected the idea when it was put to them.
Welcoming the latest comments from Spain, the Tory backbencher Bob Neill, a member of the all party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, told the Sun: “If this is a genuine shift in the Spanish position, we welcome it.
“We want the UK to have a good relationship with Spain after we leave the EU. And the people of Gibraltar want a good relationship with Spain, too.”