Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, says he loves Britain but is “sick to the back teeth of Brexit and its consequences”.
With the protocol on Northern Ireland agreed on by the UK and European Union earlier this year, the Rock now stands in isolation as the last British territory left without a deal that clarifies its future relationship with the EU and its neighbour Spain.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph in the sober cabinet room inside Gibraltar’s government building, where a framed fragment of the starred EU flag commemorates the “sombre moment” when the banner was lowered from the border post on January 31, 2020, Mr Picardo said “the people of Britain did a massive disservice to the people of Gibraltar by voting to leave the EU”.
“I love Britain but Gibraltarians are sick to the back teeth of Brexit,” said the leader of Gibraltar, where 96 per cent of people voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.
Spain is currently letting the no-deal situation slide and is allowing the 15,000 people who travel into the territory every day from the Spanish side to do so with relative ease, a fact that is critical for the functioning of Gibraltar’s economy.
‘We’re not Brexiteers’
Mr Picardo, now running at the head of the centre-Left GSLP for re-election for what would be his fourth and, he said, final term in office, claimed the parties were within a hair’s breadth of agreement in the spring before Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s prime minister, called a snap election and sent talks into limbo.
He had told his cabinet to be ready for a late-August announcement.
Asked about whether he feared sovereignty compromises, such as those entailed in the Northern Ireland deal, he said: “We’re not Brexiteers; we don’t accept that applying an EU rule somehow disengages our sovereignty as long as we have the right to determine whether to keep applying that rule going forward.”
He welcomed improved relations between London and Brussels under Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, saying: “The strongest possible relationship between the UK and EU is the best possible one for Gibraltar.”
Mr Picardo says the basis of the deal remains the in-principle agreement that was reached on New Year’s Eve, 2020, that would make Gibraltar “effectively a common travel area with Spain” as part of the Schengen zone.
He said there is still no question of there being “Spanish boots on the ground” in the policing of such a deal.
“We appreciate that only a Schengen state can be in charge of permitting entry and exit into Schengen. It must also be understood that only Gibraltar can determine who does and does not enter Gibraltar.”
The agreement envisages the creation of a joint operations facility that would straddle the frontier. “This would allow Gibraltar law enforcement and immigration officials to be able to go into Spain and Spanish officials would be able to go into Gibraltar.”
‘Sovereignty is not on the table’
On whether Spain ends up with a new more nationalist Right-wing government after inconclusive elections in July and the possibility of a fresh poll in the country, Mr Picardo said any Madrid government would meet with the same resolve from Gibraltar.
“Whoever is in power in Spain must understand that sovereignty is not on the table: we will not concede one drop of our water, one breath of our air, one grain of sand from our land.”
He also said he was confident that a future Labour government under Keir Starmer would also stand firm behind Gibraltar, describing the Blair government’s negotiation on joint sovereignty and the 1984 Brussels Agreement paving the way for talks with Spain on the territory as “disgraceful” episodes from another era.
“Both the red team and the blue team have been as bad as each other but the current red team and blue team are both committed to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”
Turning to Spain, Mr Picardo lamented the recent row over football chief Luis Rubiales’ initial refusal to resign after forcibly kissing one of the country’s female players after their World Cup win over England.
“The final was such an exhibition for the women’s game and it was such a pity to see Spain’s success on the world stage clouded by what happened a few minutes after they lifted the cup,” the chief minister said.
“I am very happy to see that attitudes are changing and Spain is standing up to an attitude that none of us in Gibraltar or the UK would put up with.”