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Brexit: Gibraltar

Volume 797: debated on Monday 29 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the Chief Minister of Gibraltar regarding the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Ministers and officials from across government have worked closely with the Government of Gibraltar throughout the EU exit process to ensure that their priorities have been properly taken into account, including through the Joint Ministerial Council (Gibraltar EU Negotiations), which has met regularly since the referendum, most recently on 9 April.

My Lords, of course the Government of Gibraltar are co-operating with the UK Government on Brexit—they have to—but is the Minister not aware that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has made it absolutely clear that his preferred option, and that of the people of Gibraltar, is to revoke the Article 50 withdrawal and stay in the European Union? Why are the Government ignoring the problem of the border between Gibraltar and the European Union?

The Chief Minister said that the withdrawal agreement works for Gibraltar and that people who care about Gibraltar should get behind the Prime Minister and support her in delivering this deal for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar. I am somewhat surprised to see the noble Lord raise the point about revocation, because I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that it is now Labour’s policy to support the result of the referendum.

My Lords, given that Spain publicly states that Gibraltar is her very first foreign policy commitment and interest, where does Gibraltar lie in the interests of the United Kingdom department for Brexit—particularly following the news today that the neo-Francoist far-right party Vox has won 23 seats in the Spanish congress and is in the position of kingmaker for a new Government?

We will have to wait and see the effect of the Spanish election, but we have a good working relationship with the Spanish Government. We have sat down and discussed all these issues openly and honestly and have had a good dialogue with them.

My Lords, rather than quoting from a much earlier statement by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, would the Minister recognise that he has now stated quite clearly—as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said—that remaining in the European Union would be best for Gibraltar? Do the Government respect that view and, if so, what are they going to do about it?

I quoted accurately what the Chief Minister said. He has always been supportive of the withdrawal agreement. Clearly, Gibraltar voted by a large margin to remain, but it is also the view of the people of Gibraltar that they want to remain allied to the United Kingdom and to respect the result of the referendum.

My Lords, the Chief Minister has been absolutely precise that no deal is not an option for Gibraltar. He has made that clear, which is why he has backed revoking Article 50 if there is no deal. The reason for that is that Gibraltar cannot be sustained without a proper deal. What planning are the Government doing for Gibraltar in the event of no deal?

We are trying to prevent no deal by getting the withdrawal agreement passed. We are talking to the Labour Front Bench in the other place and we hope to get an agreement that will prove that it respects the result of the referendum.

My Lords, there has been a growth in the number of incidents of Spanish ships—whether naval, Guardia or whatever—infringing UK Gibraltar territorial seas. Can the Minister tell us how many there have been since January and what exact actions we have taken when the Spanish have done these things? They do not appear that robust.

It has not been my responsibility and I do not have an exact figure, but I would certainly be happy to write to the noble Lord about it. We raise each and every incursion with the Spanish authorities and protest about them.

My Lords, recognising that three borders are under negotiation, what can the Minister suggest? There is Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and Anguilla, whose issues are rarely brought to the attention of the Government.

All the overseas territories and British dependencies have been closely involved in the negotiations; we have regular meetings to consult them about the process of EU withdrawal.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise the great negotiating skills that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has shown on basic agreements made by the Spanish Government about long-standing issues he hoped they could move forward with? The problem is that the British Government have let Gibraltar down phenomenally. I agree that he supported the withdrawal agreement, but the Chief Minister now says that really the only option for Gibraltar—an area of British territory that voted 94% to remain in the EU—is to restart this whole thing. Instead of playing party politics, will the Minister understand that this is a serious issue for everyone, in this country as well as in Gibraltar and the overseas territories? Will he recognise that he needs to take a more humble approach and that the Government need to show leadership in a way that has not happened to date?

I am very happy to agree with the first part of the noble Baroness’s question, when she asked me to pay tribute to the work of the Chief Minister. I think he has done an excellent job, and we have worked closely with him in pursuing discussions with the Kingdom of Spain. In fact, with the full agreement of the Government of Gibraltar, we concluded a taxation treaty between ourselves and Spain only recently.

My Lords, given that the future of Gibraltar rests not on any decisions of the Labour Party but on decisions taken in the noble Lord’s own party, what is the view of the ERG on Gibraltar and on Ireland? Will the Minister arrange for the leading members of the ERG to come here sometime and tell us how they are running the country?

I must apologise: I thought I was here to answer questions on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. If the noble Lord wishes to pose questions to the ERG, perhaps he would address them to it directly.