March 05, 2018
One rock, two vetos, three governments
With everybody focused on the Irish border, along comes Gibraltar's first minister Fabian Picardo to remind the world that the Rock is going to be an even harder problem. Picardo has grievances with both the UK and the EU, and both may end up in the courts.
On the EU side, Picardo considers it an affront that the EU's draft withdrawal agreement released last week includes the Spanish veto on Gibraltar's status, even as a footnote referring back to the EU Council's original negotiating guidelines last April. Recall that the guidelines said that a withdrawal agreement would only apply to Gibraltar if Spain and the UK agreed on it bilaterally first. Gibraltar argues that it cannot be excluded from the transition arrangements, because there should be a continuation of the EU's acquis which already applies to the Rock. The government of Gibraltar is willing to take the issue to the EU courts and has sought legal advice about it, reports El País. Not all is bad news about Gibraltar, though. There have been three technical meetings so far this year between Spain's foreign ministry and Gibraltar's government on various aspects of the future relation, including use of the airport, which the paper says have been going well. However, Spain has suggested it could veto the withdrawal agreement.
On the UK side, Picardo claimed at the end of January that section 47(3) of Gibraltar's constitution gives his government autonomy from the UK on areas other than foreign affairs, defence, internal security, and some public appointments. Picardo wants to interpret this as giving Gibraltar a veto over Brexit, which the UK government naturally denied insisting that the UK will negotiate as one and leave the EU as one.
Going back to O'Grady's piece, he suggests that one solution to the Gibraltar issue would be to give the Rock membership of the Customs Union by special protocol, much like several European microstates such as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, or the Vatican. However, the question is what Spain might demand from the UK in exchange for agreeing to this. And then it is not possible for Spain and the UK to agree a change of status for Gibraltar without the agreement of the Gibraltareans, who overwhelmingly want to remain British. Hence, two vetos to overcome.