Question for Short Debate – Brexit: Gibraltar

21at March 2017 – Contribution by Lord Waverley 

My Lords, the Gibraltar quagmire is easy to define but mighty difficult to resolve. The cocktail of complexities is varied and impacts on all participants, including the challenges of a determined Madrid, the time immemorial socialist province of Andalusia and that mother of all complexities, the Brexit negotiations: they combine to defy easy resolution.

I see one of five possible alternatives. First, the tempting old adage, “When in doubt, do nothing” seems in the circumstances unsustainable and should be discounted. Secondly, we could revisit 2004 when the El País editorial of the tercentenary, advocating the benefits of tripartite talks, were given more credence as both Madrid and London then hosted socialist Governments. Thirdly, we could bring balance to the table and recognise that there is indeed a fourth participant of equal standing to the people of Gibraltar: namely the people of Andalusia. Fourthly, we could constitute confidence-building initiatives resulting from regular civil society-led discussions, possibly with bilateral members as observers.

Red lines should be removed to allow co-operation through civil society to take centre ground to define and develop mutually beneficial goals and objectives.  An important consideration is that discussions and decisions should reflect the wishes of the people most affected. Consent is key. The status quo is not an option now that the Brexit negotiations are about to begin. After all, as has been said throughout this evening, 96% voting to remain does suggest a willingness to engage. While first and foremost it is clearly for the people of the region to decide, I firmly believe that Gibraltar’s future long-term prosperity must be rooted in mutually beneficial regional co-operation.

Might I then suggest that the centre ground of Seville be a convenient location for talks, and possibly also an ideal location for a long-overdue Gibraltar representative office? A view held in certain quarters among Spanish politicians has suggested that sovereignty need not be on the table. Rather, matters including the environment, free exchange of financial information and police co-operation—from terrorism to drugs—were considered more essential. Some time ago it had been agreed that access to medical assistance was on the table, including reciprocal recipient and donor transplant exchange using Andalusian hospitals.

Interestingly, the socialist parliamentary group in the Cortes, the Congress of Deputies, through its deputy for the province of Cadiz, presented on 9 March just past a non-legislative proposal in relation to the commercial customs checkpoint at La Línea de la Concepción and the non-commercial frontier checkpoint with Gibraltar. This will be submitted to debate and vote in the Committee for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, possibly as early as next week. If it passes that hurdle, it could proceed to a vote and possible adoption by the Cortes as a whole. This is a development inviting close scrutiny and continued interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, might wish to consider forwarding his committee’s report to Spanish local and national officials most exercised with Gibraltar, including the Parliaments in Madrid and Seville. Engagement, after all, is everything at this critical juncture. I have little doubt that HMG recognise the anomalies and possible complicating consequences of the country at large voting to leave. HMG will not wish to have their overall Brexit negotiation strategy frustrated but will also not wish to be held hostage to this complex issue. Positive results can come from dialogue and could divert looming dark clouds.

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