The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, paid his first official visit to Gibraltar on Monday, for a meeting of the joint ministerial council to agree their combined approach to the upcoming negotiations on a treaty between the EU and the UK in respect of Gibraltar.
This treaty, if it goes ahead, will include Gibraltar’s potential access to the Schengen Area which formed part of the New Year’s Eve agreement, the in-principle framework for a definitive agreement which will be enshrined in law. However, it will also cover other aspects of Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU. It will be signed on behalf of Gibraltar by the UK, as the UK is responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations. However, as Dominic Raab has pointed out in the past, the negotiations have been and are being led by the Gibraltar government, with the UK alongside.
The foreign secretary’s visit has reassured some who feared that the UK was planning to sell Gibraltar out. A statement released after the meeting said that “the Foreign Secretary reiterated the UK’s longstanding commitment that it will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. Nor will it enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content”. This was in reference to the double-lock sovereignty commitment which forms part of the Gibraltar Constitution.
The statement went on to say that the aim of these negotiations is “to secure future prosperity for Gibraltar and the surrounding region. This will be delivered through a treaty which brings confidence, legal certainty and stability to the lives and livelihoods of the people of Gibraltar and neighbouring communities, without prejudice to legal positions on sovereignty and jurisdiction. The treaty should ensure fluid and open movement of people and goods between Gibraltar and the EU (...) we are committed to work constructively and quickly with the objective of concluding a treaty in the coming months. That said, we repeat our position that a treaty must be on the right terms. Gibraltar’s British identity, and the United Kingdom’s sovereignty, must be preserved. We believe that with commitment and flexibility, a treaty can meet these requirements. However, if this does not prove to be the case, or the deal on offer is not the right one for the UK and Gibraltar, we are fully prepared to accept the implications. The UK will stand fully behind Gibraltar, its people and its economy in any scenario”.
At a press conference later, a journalist said visits of this nature are sometimes followed by bad news, and asked if that was going to be the case. Not at all, said Raab; Gibraltar is part of the UK family and that is a constant and steadfast. “There’s no lurking bad news for you at all,” he said, adding pointedly, “Sorry to disappoint.”