My contribution will focus solely on the position of Gibraltar in the context of the broader negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. I declare an interest as a former Governor of Gibraltar and as chancellor of the new University of Gibraltar.
I appreciate that this Bill applies only in a limited way to Gibraltar, but there is a need to provide firm reassurances at every stage about its future. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition and other noble Lords have referred to this issue. It is worth reminding the House that Gibraltarians voted in the referendum by a majority of 96% in favour of remaining in the European Union. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are concerned to protect the rights and benefits that they have acquired since joining the EU with the UK in 1973. The best way in which to reassure them is to provide legal guarantees in addition to ministerial statements. This is a matter that can be probed in Committee.
Gibraltarians have every reason to feel anxious about the future, because the new EU negotiating directive issued by the European Council reaffirms clause 24, which featured in earlier negotiating guidelines. This clause purports to give Spain a veto over the application to Gibraltar of any agreement concluded after the United Kingdom has left the European Union. I am glad to note that HMG do not accept the legal validity of this clause, but the fact that Spain has persuaded the European Council to incorporate this clause in the negotiating guidelines is most unhelpful. While clause 24 does not apply to this Bill, Spain is putting pressure on the EU for the clause to apply to the proposed transition period as well as any longer term arrangement between the United Kingdom and the EU. Neither is acceptable.
Therefore, we have a scenario where, in the worst case, Spain can seek to exclude Gibraltar from any broad agreement between the EU and the UK and insist on a separate agreement over Gibraltar. What we do not want is a situation whereby the British Government are faced at the end of the overall negotiations with a stark choice either to accept the general agreement with the EU and exclude Gibraltar or to postpone the general agreement until we and Spain can agree on Gibraltar’s future arrangements.
The Prime Minister of Spain, Mr Rajoy, said on
“Whatever future agreement between the EU and the UK, there has to be an agreement between Spain and the UK for that to apply to Gibraltar. We also asked that this applies to the transition period”.
Moreover, in the recent past, Gibraltar has had to face plenty of provocation from some Francoist elements in the Spanish Government both on the Gibraltar border and within the UK-Gibraltar waters. The treatment of Catalonia gives us no encouragement. The Spanish bullfighting culture still emerges from time to time.
We must bear it in mind, of course, that, before any final general agreement, there has to be unanimity among all 27 EU partners. Moreover, most of us will feel that it is very much in the interests of Spain and the UK that there should be a satisfactory resolution. Good relations between us are important, and, in any event, both countries and Gibraltar stand to gain by a co-operative arrangement across the border as 40% of the Gibraltar workforce crosses from Spain into Gibraltar each day to work. The Andalusian region around Gibraltar stands to gain from economic collaboration. That means that orderly arrangements for the border are essential. This points to the need for the Spanish and British Governments to work in their common interest on Gibraltar and well before any final agreement on the EU is put to Parliaments.
Against this background we need to reassure the people of Gibraltar. The Prime Minister has confirmed to Parliament that Gibraltar will not be excluded from the negotiations for either the transition period or any future agreement and that we will take account of the interests of Gibraltar and its unique relationship with the EU. It is good that the Joint Ministerial Committee on Gibraltar is working effectively and in a positive way. However, the people of Gibraltar need not just reassuring words but clear legal reassurances, wherever possible, that their acquired rights, which are in existence now, are preserved through this Bill, and that both the transition and the final outcome apply to them.
Most importantly, access to the UK market for Gibraltar’s well-regulated financial services remains vital for it constitutes 90% of all Gibraltar’s business with the EU. This and future growth must be guaranteed for the future. There must be no discriminatory treatment against Gibraltar at any stage as a result of this Bill or any forthcoming legislation concerning our arrangements with the EU. Anything that can be done in this Bill and future ones to reinforce this point will help ease the minds of Gibraltarians. They have been loyal to us in good times and bad. We in turn must do whatever we can to assure their future.
I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope he will confirm that the Government are committed to providing legal as well as verbal assurances to the Chief Minister, Mr Picardo, and the people of Gibraltar.