As crucial talks with the EU on a Brexit treaty begin, Boris Johnson has warned that Gibraltar’s sovereignty will be “safeguarded.”
Brussels announced on Tuesday that it is ready to begin talks with the United Kingdom on post-Brexit arrangements for Gibraltar, a British enclave that juts out from southern Spain.
In a statement, the European Council, which represents the EU’s 27 member states, stated that the bloc’s negotiating position had been agreed upon and that the European Commission could now begin negotiations.
“The aim of the negotiations is to establish a broad and balanced agreement between the EU and the UK in respect of Gibraltar in view of the particular geographical situation and specificities of Gibraltar”, a Commission spokeswoman stated.
However, before the crucial talks, the Prime Minister emphasised that Gibraltarians “democratically chosen to be British.”
Mr Johnson stated emphatically that he believes “in the free and independent spirit of the Rock and in the right of Gibraltarians to choose their destiny” during a speech at the Tory Party conference.
Gibraltar was not included in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which established the basis of their partnership and dispute-resolution processes late last year.
The people of Gibraltar voted massively against Brexit, but they now face significant challenges as their little enclave, which is economically and labour-dependent on Spain, deals with the consequences.
Spain, which has long tried to reclaim the territory it lost to Britain in 1713, has a working agreement with London that allows it to handle the Gibraltar border while remaining a member of the Schengen passport-free zone.
However, that arrangement – as well as the specifics of how it works – must be codified in a formal treaty, which necessitates negotiations between Brussels and London.
The EU’s negotiation mandate, which the Commission submitted in July, has been met with scepticism by Gibraltar officials and the UK government.
They are particularly concerned about the level of control Spain would have over the border and the extent to which EU legislation would apply to the flow of products across it.
“Without a doubt, the key issue in this negotiation will be the inviolable preservation of our sovereignty, jurisdiction and control in all aspects,” stated Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister.
“on all matters related to this negotiation, and we hope that the enormous preparatory work that we have done together over the last ten months will bear fruit.”
Mr Picardo admitted that the negotiations would be “difficult and complicated” and that they would not be “easy.”
“But the Government is nevertheless confident that, with goodwill and cooperation on the part of all, a treaty can be concluded that protects Gibraltar’s interests, through our relationship with the EU, for years and decades,” he said.
“I am optimistic and will continue to work towards a safe and beneficial treaty for Gibraltar, for our people and for the people in the area around us.”