We are 30 days from the deadline for finalizing negotiations for a UK-EU treaty over Gibraltar, yet there is little news about progress leading to negotiations even starting. There seem to be two events possibly causing delay and concern, and another pricking the interest of some.
The EU has promised to publish its negotiating mandate, but has yet not done so, indicating that meaningful negotiations have not and cannot start.
The UK’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its Strike Group of Royal Navy ships sailed past Gibraltar last Sunday, without calling. Are the first and this event connected?
The failed Swiss – EU negotiations, on the grounds that Switzerland does not want to cede greater elements of sovereignty, may have some resonance with certain people in Gibraltar.
In the absence of any public comment from the British Government, one can only make deductions, based on what is in the public domain, as to why the British fleet sailed past Gibraltar. It had been said that its first stop would be Gibraltar. It did not stop here. HMS Richmond alone made a very brief detour into, and promptly exited, British Territorial Waters in the Bay of Gibraltar.
There is widespread media reports that the rebuff to Gibraltar was inspired by Spanish diplomatic pressure. The British Government, in the guise of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), remain tight lipped. If there is any truth in that press opinion, it is an example of the exercise by Spain of diplomatic (or is it actual) ‘sovereignty’, even before any treaty with EU (blessed by Spain) is agreed.
Further, a plan to host local dignitaries on board the flagship was cancelled, also without explanation from the MOD. Apparently, that additional reversal of plans caused the Chief Minister some dismay (or was it anger?), similarly a press briefing planned for RAF Gibraltar did not happen.
Some reports say, however, that senior UK military post holders were hosted to a reception on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.
One of the unique features of Gibraltar’s British status is military use, specifically that of the Royal Navy. It is of extreme importance that Gibraltar’s ‘Britishness’, namely its national status and individual British nationalism, should be emphasised and protected in the scenario of a treaty with the EU. It should not be allowed to be weakened.
The hope is that we have experienced an isolated incidence that will not be repeated once a treaty is completed. The further hope is that the use of the base by the UK will not be restricted.
UK – Gibraltar, on 29th March 2021, announced the negotiating mandate they will jointly follow. The EU continue to promise to announce its own, but to date nothing.
The EU’s position, one imagines, will, out of respect for its delegate, Spain, be based on the Framework Agreement, entered in late December 2020. That will not be known until, and if, the EU publishes its negotiating position.
There is delay on that front, which is unlikely to have been helped by the intended visit of the UK’s Strike Group. It seems that hiccup (or was it a faux pas?) has been averted now.
The UK-Gibraltar mandate emphasises that if a treaty is not concluded, “The UK will stand fully behind Gibraltar, its people, and its economy in any scenario”. The Royal Navy’s bypassing of Gibraltar last Sunday does not say a lot to support this commitment.
The UK – Gibraltar are clear. Both seek shared prosperity, confidence, legal certainty for and stability to lives and livelihoods, in Gibraltar and the immediate hinterland, and fluid, open movement for people and goods/services, whilst preserving Gibraltar’s British identity and UK sovereignty.
Fluid movement of goods and services, it adds, will need unique treatment, bearing in mind Gibraltar’s unique character and limited scale, therefore the need for any disproportionate regulatory, legal, or administrative burden must be minimised.
Interestingly, the UK-Gibraltar mandate provides that a treaty will need to provide “… mechanisms for cooperation through a simple, Joint Committee structure, dispute settlement and interpretation of the treaty.” Is that not indicative that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) may not be a suitable acceptable forum?
The start of any negotiation and its ongoing progress will become clear if, or when, the EU publishes its negotiating mandate, and from every detail that it will contain. The possibility exists that what is in Spain’s interest, and what it proposes, may not meet broader EU requirements. Broader EU needs and considerations will likely involve a much wider number of nations and their respective interrelated concerns.
Actual news on this front is very limited, for now. In the main it consists of statements indicating that the initial deadline for completion of negotiations will not be met and will be extended, but there is nothing about interim frontier arrangements, which facilitate free movement, continuing during any extension of the negotiating period.
Continued at link.