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Brexit: Gibraltar

Volume 788: debated on Monday 29 January 2018


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Gibraltar will be fully integrated into the Brexit negotiations for both the transitional period and the longer-term arrangements.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Luce, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are clear that Gibraltar is covered by our exit negotiations, and we have committed to involve it fully as we exit the EU. We will not exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the agreement for the future. We are taking Gibraltar’s interests into account, and the fifth meeting of the UK-Gibraltar Ministerial Forum on EU Exit took place in December, chaired by Minister Robin Walker.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he enlarge on the principal mechanisms to assure the people of Gibraltar that they will not be excluded from any of the discussions? The Minister will know very well the sensitivity of this issue for the people of Gibraltar.

I totally agree with the noble Lord that these are sensitive matters. We regularly consult the Government of Gibraltar. It is also fair to say that we have excellent bilateral relations with the Government of Spain. We last met them on 11 January to take these matters forward, and so far the discussions have been constructive and helpful on all sides.

My Lords, I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar. One thing that the Gibraltarians are particularly concerned about is the transition period and the real possibility that Spain will exercise its veto, which the EU countries have accepted, to prevent Gibraltar being involved in the transition discussions.

I thank the noble and learned Baroness for her question, but I really do not think that the word “veto” should be used in these circumstances. We have excellent relations with Spain and, as I said, we have been discussing these issues with Spain in a constructive and helpful manner. The discussions are going forward well and we expect a positive result.

My Lords, last week I met Sir Joe Bossano, the former Chief Minister, who stressed that not only does Gibraltar have a land border with what will be the EU 27 but that many Gibraltarians consider it to be a border with a potentially hostile state that has designs on their territory—and, of course, the ability to close that very short border. Given that, as we have just heard, paragraph 24 of the EU’s guidelines on the negotiations gives Spain an effective veto, will the Minister give an unequivocal pledge both to guarantee the Rock’s sovereignty and to make its future economic prosperity a priority in the negotiations?

Of course we can give a pledge to the people of Gibraltar on their sovereignty—we have done that many times—but I do not think that using the words “hostile state” is helpful in the circumstances. The discussions have been positive and cordial. We are engaging with the Government of Spain and trying to resolve the issues. The noble Baroness is right to point to the land border, but it is now a Schengen border. Many residents of Spain—something like 7,000 a day—cross that border to work in Gibraltar, so there is a desire on both sides to make the arrangements work as smoothly as possible.

My Lords, as we have both served in the European Parliament, does my noble friend agree that Gibraltar has had good representation through a nominated Member of the European Parliament? That representation will presumably cease at the European elections next year. What discussions will there be and what mechanism will be in place to ensure that, at a crucial time for Gibraltar’s future, she will have representation in the European Parliament?

I think matters have moved on a bit since my noble friend was in the European Parliament. It is actually attached to a UK geographical area—the south-west region—and so it has a whole region of MEPs to represent its interests in the European Parliament. We will take Gibraltar’s interests fully into account. We consult Gibraltar regularly and will make sure that its interests are well represented.

My Lords, Monsieur Barnier’s name was mentioned in response to Question 1 and Question 2 today. The same Mr Barnier told a Select Committee of the Spanish Parliament, on 23 January, that Gibraltar was not part of the negotiations. Is he misinformed in this respect? Will the Minister confirm that, if we make the mistake of leaving the EU, Gibraltar will be included not only in the negotiations but in the final settlement and agreement—because that is not clear?

I say to the noble Lord that I think it is clear. The Prime Minister said in Parliament on 18 December that,

“we will be … negotiating to ensure that the relationships are there for Gibraltar as well. We are not going to exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the future agreement”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/17; col. 758.]

It could not be clearer.

Does the Minister not accept that the predicament of Gibraltar would be largely overcome if we remained in the single market and the customs union?

I will repeat what has been said in the discussions we have had many times on this: we share the position of the Labour Front Bench that we are leaving the single market and leaving the customs union.

Will the Minister tell me of any discussions the Government have had with the Government of Spain about all the long queues that there still are on the border between Spain and Gibraltar?

We are clear that queues are, of course, unacceptable and extremely inconvenient for anybody seeking to pass either into or out of Gibraltar. We discuss these matters regularly in our excellent discussions with the Spanish Government.

My Lords, already today we have had two or three supplementary questions and three main Questions on the EU and withdrawal, and we have two days this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, scheduled for debate, and 10 days scheduled for Committee stage—so there will be no shortage of opportunity for Members of this House to quiz Ministers. But could the Minister reassure everyone that, despite the calls for us to ignore the referendum that have come from one or two questioners today, in particular from my very good and noble friend Lord Foulkes, he will be careful to keep in mind not just the 17.4 million people who voted as they did in the referendum but, more specifically—if I can be parochial about this—the 2:1 majority of voters in the West Midlands who were quite clear about the decision that we should leave the European Union?

I agree with the noble Lord that of course we will be taking their interests into account. There was a similar majority in my own region—but there were remain majorities in other parts of the country. We act as a nation, and it was a referendum of the United Kingdom as a whole. It was a clear decision to leave the European Union; that decision was confirmed in my party’s election manifesto and in the noble Lord’s party’s election manifesto; and we will proceed to implement that decision.