‘People matter most’ in treaty negotiation, CM says

15th December 2023

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said on Friday that “people matter more” than anything else in the negotiation on a treaty for Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the EU, adding any agreement must ensure “all parties win and none lose”.

He was speaking during Cadena Ser’s flagship morning news programme ‘Hoy por Hoy’, which was broadcast live from the John Mackintosh Hall on Friday with a varied mix of current affairs, history and culture focused on the Rock.

Quizzed by the programme’s host Angels Barcelo on whether Gibraltar would accept a Spanish presence, Mr Picardo said the focus was on achieving a delicate balance between sometimes competing interests and that all sides were approaching the talks “in good faith”.

“It's not a matter of accepting Spanish presence, it's a matter of finding a balance between the responsibility of the Schengen states and Gibraltar's responsibility to guard its border,” he said.

“It's a matter of finding balance on all the points in this negotiation.”

Mr Picardo said Gibraltar was often misunderstood in Spain and that “people often listen to lies and believe them”, adding that in the era of social media “it’s almost natural”.

And while he acknowledged that at one level it was easier to negotiate with a Spanish government of the left, the relationship was often less down to ideology than to personality.

He noted, for example, that the PP Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis had been “a magnificent ally in managing Brexit in a reasonable manner”, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, who had created six-hour border queues even when Gibraltar was an EU member.

“Sometimes, if we put ourselves in a situation where we insist on ideologies that force us to turn our backs on each other, there is no alternative,” he said.

“And I believe that we have to bear in mind that neither of the parties in this negotiation, now or in the future, will have reason to abandon their historical positions.”

“What we are saying is let's look forward, let's leave that behind and we're not going to try to make one or the other commit, in the context this negotiation, where we know we can't enter, because if we do, we enter into disagreement.”

“We're going to look for the thousand points of agreement and we're going to leave the three points of disagreement aside, which is also possible, because we have spent 300 years focusing on the three things we disagree on, and there are a thousand on which we agree.”

Mr Picardo said that while economic opportunities were very important in the negotiation, “people matter more”.

“I believe that the most important thing that citizens have shown us, even with the border closed…was that human relations are not broken by a dictator, a referendum, or any politician,” he said.

“And that is what shows us that, although administrations sometimes turn their backs on each other, people always keep facing forward.”

Asked whether Gibraltar could afford a ‘no deal’ outcome, Mr Picardo said that while the Rock, together with the UK, was preparing for a worst-case scenario, it would be “a great shame” to miss the opportunity presented by Brexit.

“Gibraltar can afford it because it will never be willing to yield on the fundamentals, and we have already done many exercises on how we are going to manage if there is no agreement,” the Chief Minister said.

“But if there is no agreement, we are going to do it, as we say around here, with a heavy heart, because the truth is that I believe that is an opportunity that history offers us.”

“History opens its arms to us and gives us an opportunity that would be a great shame not to know how to manage.”

Mr Picardo was asked what “shared prosperity”, the phrase used by all sides to explain what their ultimate goal is, might look like in practice.

“We have privileged access to the United Kingdom. The Campo has privileged access in services to the European Union,” he replied.

“If we combine that, I think it would be difficult not to create the largest economic boom this area has seen in its history.”