Spain’s Minister for Defence, Margarita Robles, on Monday underlined the “urgent need” for a UK/EU agreement on Gibraltar at a time of geopolitical flux and security concerns.
She was speaking after meeting her UK counterpart, Ben Wallace, and as negotiators from the UK – with Gibraltar – and the EU reconvened in London for the 13th formal round of talks since the start of the negotiation for a treaty on the Rock’s post-Brexit relation with the bloc.
"We have emphasized the urgent need for a prompt agreement, which is essential and fundamental, far beyond the scope of bilateral relations, for the context of security in that important geographical area that is Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean," she said, according to Spanish state-owned news service EFE.
After noting that negotiations are being conducted by their respective foreign affairs ministries, she stressed that both she and Mr Wallace were "aware of the geographical situation and the risks we have at this time."
"I have conveyed the need to reach an agreement as soon as possible, and he also agreed that negotiations should continue to reach an agreement," she added.
The talks in London commenced on Monday and are scheduled to close today.
As in previous rounds, the Government of Gibraltar will be represented in the room by the Attorney General Michael Llamas, supported by the Director of Gibraltar House in Brussels Daniel D’Amato.
The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia, will again connect virtually into the room.
Dr Garcia flew to London on Monday for other related meetings.
“The Government remains fully committed to work hard to conclude an agreement which is safe, secure and beneficial for Gibraltar,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
In unrelated developments, Mr Picardo on Saturday described Hugh Elliott, the UK ambassador to Spain, as a “champion of the cause of Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians”, after the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab sparked a furious row centred in part on a 2020 episode during the Brexit negotiations on Gibraltar.
Mr Raab resigned on Friday after accepting a bullying inquiry found he acted in an intimidating and aggressive way with officials, including with a senior diplomat who he claimed “put UK sovereignty at risk” during the talks leading to the New Year’s Eve agreement.
Newspaper reports in the UK on Saturday claimed the diplomat in question was the UK ambassador to Madrid, who Mr Raab, while he was Foreign Secretary in 2020, believed had gone beyond the Cabinet agreed position to never have Spanish officers permanently stationed in Gibraltar.
The Telegraph reported that, according to Mr Raab’s allies, Mr Elliott had been sounding out a “fudged” solution with Spanish counterparts that would have seen some Spanish officers stationed in Gibraltar.
“The charge was a serious one – that an official had gone beyond the Cabinet mandate, the official approach dictated by the top table of government ministers, and had freelanced on policy,” the newspaper reported.
“A more sympathetic interpretation, perhaps, would be a diplomat attempting to find a landing zone for high wire negotiations.”
“But in Mr Raab’s eyes, a red line had been crossed.”
According to the newspaper, Mr Elliott was effectively removed from the front line of talks but remained ambassador.
In his place, Simon Manley, who had spent six years as UK ambassador to Spain before Mr Elliott, was sent out to conduct negotiations.
On Saturday the Chief Minister was robust in his defence of Mr Elliott, who remains a key player in the negotiations for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar and has spoken publicly about the process on numerous occasions since the reported 2020 incident with the minister.
“Hugh Elliott has been a champion of the cause of Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians since he arrived in Madrid,” Mr Picardo said.
“We have not seen any statement or conduct by Mr Elliott which has been anything other than supportive of our positions and in pursuit or the outcomes that the Governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom are jointly pursuing.”
“Hugh Elliott is a committed patriot and a friend of Gibraltar and the cause of the Gibraltarians.”
“No one should think otherwise.”
A spokesperson for the UK embassy in Madrid declined to comment on the reports.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office did not respond to requests for comment.