Clause 24 of the EU's negotiating headlines raised its ugly head again this week, causing tension in Gibraltar and between the UK and the European Union, and leading British prime minister Theresa May to reiterate in the House of Commons that Gibraltar has her full support and will not be left out of negotiations for the transition period of Brexit.
Clause 24 caused shock back in April, when it effectively gave Spain a veto over any UK-EU agreements that relate to Gibraltar once Britain has left the EU. The clause says that no future agreement between the UK and the EU can be applied to Gibraltar without prior agreement between Spain and the UK.
The reason for the present concern is because the EU has just published its negotiating guidelines for the next phase of the Brexit talks, and these once again refer to Clause 24.
The UK and Gibraltar governments consider that any arrangements for Britain's transition period automatically include Gibraltar, because Brexit will not yet have happened, but Spain appears to be putting pressure on the EU to specifically apply Clause 24 to these negotiations as well.
In response to a question put to her by the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, May reiterated comments she had made on Monday regarding Gibraltar and the Brexit negotiations.
“We and the EU have been clear that Gibraltar is covered by the withdrawal agreement and our Article 50 exit negotiations,” she said. “As we negotiate this, 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.”
The Gibraltar government was quick to respond to the news, accusing Spain of “negative motivation” and “outright bad faith”. Deputy chief minister Dr Joseph Garcia said: “Spain has absolutely nothing to gain by this. Current and future Spanish workers have nothing to gain by this and the uncertainty created by their government as a result. Indeed, the European Union itself has nothing to gain by this. All that they have done is slap in the face a small community that voted by 96% to remain in the European Union. Moreover, the purported veto is not even in the interests of Spain itself or of the many thousands of Spanish and other EU nationals who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar.”
It should be noted that these are proposed guidelines from the EU regarding the next stage of talks, so nothing is set in stone. However, when asked about the application of Clause 24 to the transition period, EU negotiator Michel Barnier indicated that “the spirit of April's guidelines is reaffirmed on this particular point in the document agreed today.”