I am happy to rise to record in the Parliament that, after many months of hard work, we have reached an in principle framework agreement with the United Kingdom and Spain for a potential treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union to govern the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar.
I will refer to this in-principle agreement during the course of this afternoon as ‘the framework’.
In the process of doing that hard work we have kept Cabinet colleagues involved in the detail of the discussions as we have progressed through each stage of it.
We have taken each step only after consideration by the Cabinet of whether it was safe, on the grounds of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control for us to continue the discussions.
Our Cabinet discussions have been an essential mechanism for ensuring that we shaped the framework, insofar as possible in the context of the negotiation, in a manner that was in keeping with the leeway we believe we will need in order to ensure we have the economic opportunities we need for our future prosperity.
We have also met with and briefed the Leader of the Opposition and the Honourable lady and shared with them all drafts of the documents being negotiated.
I met with both of them last week and was able to provide them with final copies of the framework documents.
I have been very grateful for their constructive engagement in this respect in our discussions.
As I have already said publicly, most recently last night on an extended edition of Viewpoint and in detail in interviews with Panorama and the Gibraltar Chronicle, the framework agreement is not in any way near final.
This framework, in effect, is only an agreement to try to reach an agreement, and as such it is not yet certain that we have avoided a hard Brexit.
What we have now is the opportunity but not the certainty of a UK Treaty with the EU in respect of Gibraltar and it is important that I emphasise that Mr Speaker. This is the opportunity but not the certainty of a UK Treaty in respect of Gibraltar.
But there is a long way to go before that Treaty can be considered to be likely, although it is now more likely than it was before we finalised the framework.
The Foreign Secretary, the Rt Honourable Dominic Raab MP, said this yesterday in a Written Ministerial Statement on the framework, which I think it is important to record in the House today:
“In the UK Approach to Negotiations on the Future Relationship with the EU as published in February 2020, the Government stated that it would act in these negotiations on behalf of all the territories for whose international relations the UK is responsible, which includes Gibraltar.
We have worked side by side with the Government of Gibraltar to honour this commitment. As a consequence of the EU’s negotiating mandate which it adopted in February 2020, Gibraltar was not within scope of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The Commission made a declaration alongside the TCA stating that this would ‘not preclude the possibility to have separate agreements between the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar’, and that it stood ready ‘to examine any request from Spain, in agreement with the United Kingdom, to initiate the procedure for the negotiation of such separate agreements should they be compatible with Union law and Union interests’.
To that end, the UK, working side by side with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain, reached agreement on 31 December over a political framework to form the basis of a separate treaty between the UK and the EU regarding Gibraltar. We have sent this framework to the European Commission in order to initiate negotiations on the treaty.
The political framework covers issues of key importance to Gibraltar and the surrounding region, including on border fluidity. It creates the basis for a bespoke model for Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU that will permit an absence of physical checks at the land border with Spain, and therefore ensure fluidity of movement of people and goods between Gibraltar and the EU. The Governments of both the UK and Gibraltar judge that this framework provides a firm basis to safeguard Gibraltar’s interests.
The UK and Gibraltar are committed to ensuring that cross-border arrangements can continue in the interim, until a new treaty enters into force. Arrangements have been agreed with Spain that include provisions for the border (goods and people), road transport, healthcare, waste disposal, and data. In addition, the UK Government provided financial and other support to ensure that Gibraltar was fully prepared for the end of the Transition Period.
We remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar, and its sovereignty is safeguarded.”
Mr Speaker, I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for his support throughout the process of this negotiation. The Prime Minister has also been very supportive throughout, as have their respective teams. I thank them on behalf of Gibraltar for their strong, support throughout this initial period of the process and their commitment to continued support as we negotiate the Treaty with the EU based on the framework.
Mr Speaker, the House and the people of Gibraltar should all be reassured to know that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have understood the need for a differentiated solution for Gibraltar’s socio-economic and geographic reality, which is what people voted for both in the context of the EU referendum and our General Election.
I should just also point out that the TCA, that is to say what we might call the main UK/EU agreement does NOT cover any of the Overseas Territories. It is not just Gibraltar.
We should just note that Gibraltar’s exclusion from the TCA is not born just from position taken by the Government of Spain in 2018 but also by the EU’s own position that it had no mandate from the governments of the Member States in the EU Council to negotiate for the EU’s overseas territories or in respect of ANY of the UK’s overseas territories.
It is also worth, Mr Speaker, before I go on, that I should reflect to the House the statements yesterday by Mrs Clara Martínez Alberola, Deputy Director-General, Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom at the European Commision.
Mrs Alberola was responding in the European Parliament to issues raised by various members of the European Parliament, notably including Snr Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, in respect of the framework.
She responded by saying the following, which I think it is important is reflected into the record of this House.
Mrs Alberola said: “Finally, a word on Gibraltar, that was referred to by the two Spanish MEPs that took the floor. There is no agreement yet. There is an informal framework, what the Spanish authorities and the UK authorities call a framework for the future negotiation and, hopefully, agreement between the EU and the UK covering Gibraltar. As the members of the Parliament know, the TCA, the agreement that we have now concluded with the UK do not cover the territory of Gibraltar, so there was this intention, both by the UK side, by the Spanish authorities and with the support of the Commission, to try to understand if there was a possibility to have in the future an agreement that will cover Gibraltar. This is what the Spanish authorities and the UK authorities have discussed in this period of time. They have concluded a paper that contains certain provisions and principles and framework. But this has to be developed yet in the form of the mandate that will be approved, hopefully, first proposed by the Commission, then approved by the Council, and hopefully with the support of the Parliament and then negotiated by the European authorities.
So it is too early for me to say how everything will be organised, because this has first to be reflected in a draft, a mandate by the Commission, and we will need to take into consideration all the provisions that are, of course, very important, relating to Schengen, related to goods, to transport, to level playing field, etc., and then negotiate it with the UK authorities in the form of an agreement, that we should not forget will be an EU agreement, EU-UK agreement, and not anything else. So we will see this develop probably in the next weeks and months. The Commission of course welcomed very much the fact that the Spanish and the UK authorities were able to agree on a framework and we will develop this in the future by the mandate and by the negotiations.”
Mr Speaker I think it is very helpful to have recorded the Foreign Secretary’s words and Mrs Alberoa’s words in the Westminster and European Parliaments here in the Hansard of this Parliament.
This is the position I have already set out here for the people of Gibraltar.
The framework is the basis for the negotiation now of the UK/EU Treaty.
The framework has no public international legal value of itself.
It is not an agreement to prevent a hard Brexit.
But it has enabled us to agree an extension NOT OF TRANSITION but of certain bridging measures to apply between Gibraltar and Spain and the EU at our land frontier with Spain.
So, for now, it assists us in having averted the worst effects of a hard Brexit as we continue negotiations.
Mr Speaker, I should also highlight that it was agreed that we would not publish the terms of the framework at least until the European Commission had a chance to consider it.
The framework had been provide to the Commission for them to consider whether and what mandate to prepare and it would not be right to publish the framework in a way that appear to be designed to put pressure on the Commission, which was the last thing that would have been helpful.
The framework, however, has now been published by a newspaper on its online portal.
I happy to be able to inform the House that I had already provided drafts of the earlier versions of it to the Leader of the Opposition and the Honourable lady and had agreed to give them the final version, not for publication but for consideration, before the publication of it online.
In this respect, Mr Speaker, the public should note that the position on publication of agreements in the parallel UK/EU negotiation also resulted in non-publication of notes of agreement.
Only the Treaty text that was to emerged was published.
I very much regret that the framework has been published other than by agreement between the parties and in a manner which has not enabled the EU Commission to consider the terms of a potential mandate ahead of the publication of the framework.
Mr Speaker, the framework for a UK / European Union Agreement or Treaty on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU has the potential to enable us to re-set our relationship with Spain and cast it in a more positive light going forward.
But the reality is that the Treaty proposed will govern the relationship between Gibraltar and the European Union in areas of EU competence.
What happened on the 31st was that the British Ambassador in the UK Mission to the European Union (as he is no longer the permanent representative now that we have formally left the EU) has written to the President of the European Commission confirming the UK’s desire that such an agreement be negotiated and that the EU should seek a mandate for that purpose.
Spain also confirmed that it had written to the European Commission for that purpose.
As we have been seeking to do, the framework provides that the treaty to be negotiated will deal with maximised and unrestricted mobility of persons between Gibraltar and the Schengen area.
This part of the framework refers to something that ‘will’ happen if there is a treaty.
Spain, as the neighbouring Schengen member state, will be responsible as regards the European Union for the implementation of Schengen.
This will be managed by the introduction of a FRONTEX operation for the control of entry and exit points from the Schengen area at the Gibraltar entry points.
It is envisaged that these arrangements will initially be provided for an initial period of four years.
It will also seek to address maximised and unrestricted mobility of goods between Gibraltar and the European Union which could be something that forms part of that final treaty.
This part of the framework is referred to as something that ‘could’ happen if there is a treaty.
We will also seek to reach agreement on matters related to the environment, the level playing field, social security coordination, citizens’ rights, data and matters related to continued document recognition and other ancillary matters.
These are the things that matter to people, to our citizens generally and to our workers in particular, to our businesses and to our entrepreneurs and our wealth creators.
The negotiation of the framework has been difficult.
That is why we went to the wire, right up to the 31st December.
And we concluded just in time to avert the worst effects of a hard Brexit on the morning of the 1st of January.
Mr Speaker, the important thing is that we should note that there are no aspects of the framework that any away transgress Gibraltar’s position on sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.
And Mr Speaker I want to confirm on the record of the House that this is not just my opinion, it is also the opinion of all members of the Gibraltar Cabinet and as specifically confirmed in writing by the Attorney General of Gibraltar, Michael Llamas QC.
I want to record my thanks to all members of my Cabinet for their advice and support as we have negotiated these arrangements.
In particular, I have publicly and must here also thank the Deputy Chief Minister, the Hon Dr Joseph Garcia MP for his work alongside me in the negotiating team for Gibraltar.
I also have to thank Sir Joe Bossano MP for his specific guidance in each of the Cabinet discussions on this subject.
We have been clear about our position on the fundamentals throughout and the reality is that we could not have countenanced an ‘in-principle’ agreement of this type if sovereignty had been on the table.
For that reason, I also have publicly and must here also expressly thank the President of the Spanish Government, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, for the approach he and his Government have adopted to this negotiation.
From the moment that he first addressed the issue of Gibraltar, Prime Minister Sanchez has insisted that he wanted to look beyond the eternal issue of sovereignty.
I also want in this House to expressly thank the Spanish Foreign Secretary, Arancha Gonzalez Laya for her work, her sensitivity and her own, very, very personal efforts in getting a mutually acceptable framework over the line, as well as the efforts of Spanish Secretary of State for Europe, Juan Gonzalez Barba.
Mr Speaker, I think it is important that we reflect that this framework is, of course, imperfect.
There is still a lot to be negotiated.
Matters related to goods are, of course, concerning for us as we have no experience of the Common Customs Union.
We are not going to join it but we are considering a bespoke arrangement, which permits potential suppression of customs controls.
This will require an in-depth consideration of issues with out business community. We have already established a TREATY LIAISON AND ADVISORY COMMITTEE to advise us on these matters. The Minister for Economic Development is already looking at these issues also. He has the benefit of being the only one of our number who was a member of this House when the decision was rightly made by then government, with the support of the House, not enter the Customs Union in 1972 when we joined the European Union, then the European Economic Community.
We will get this right by working together and analysing together.
And for those who want to see us create Shared Prosperity, I say this: Remember that Gibraltar will need to be an engine of economic growth and to do so we will only agree to arrangements which preserve our prosperity.
It is in that way that we will be able to continue to create more private sector employment in and around Gibraltar for the benefit of Gibraltar and the whole region around us.
This has been a difficult process.
We have been battling the tide of history.
But with this agreement in principle we hope to start to see the future come into view.
And in that respect, Mr Speaker, we have to remind ourselves that Gibraltar has always sought proper and respectful engagement with our neighbour.
We have always turned our back on Spain’s attempts to strangle us economically, her sovereignty claim and her deprecation of our institutions.
And we know that we have to be careful, cynical and concerned about any proposals to ensure that we do not inadvertently fail to pick up matters which could adversely affect our positions.
But we have never been the aggressor and we have never been the ones who have sought to put barriers between us.
That has best seen in the result of the referendum and in the support we have had for our plan to establish a link with the Schengen area whilst at the same time ensuring we strengthen our post Brexit economic planning.
Now, with this framework we can be at the beginning of the creation of an area of shared prosperity.
And that is what we want to see, greater economic growth which will greatly benefit our people and will greatly benefit the people of the area around us.
We want to see greater cooperation which will greatly benefit our people and will greatly benefit the people of the area around us also.
And we want to see greater prosperity become a material reality for the whole of Gibraltar and the whole of the region around us.
But there is still a long road to go.
Still a negotiation to be undertaken.
There is still a Treaty to be finalised for which the EU does not even have a mandate yet.
I am confident there will be a mandate.
And I hope that there will be a Treaty.
It is that Treaty that we will negotiate like hawks to ensure that there is no cession of sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.
And it is that Treaty that we will have to scrutinize to ensure that have made no cession of sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.
That, however, Mr Speaker, is not what today’s statement is about. That is what the debate on the Treaty, if we achieve one, will be about.
Mr Speaker, as I have done already in respect of Panorama, the Chronicle, GBC and yesterday the people on Viewpoint, I am happy to answer any requests for clarification that honourable members may have.
Mr Speaker, I commend this statement to the House.