Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

British MEP removed from key role in Gibraltar row

  • Labour MEP Claude Moraes had suggested several compromise texts to the member states (Photo: European Parliament)

A British MEP has been removed from the legislative file on post-Brexit visa-free travel to the EU for UK citizens in a row over Gibraltar.

Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP, has been forced out as the rapporteur - for granting a visa waiver for UK citizens to the EU, on condition of reciprocity - in a sign of Britain's shrinking leverage in the bloc.

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The British MEP rejected a controversial text on Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, put forward by the council of member states in the draft bill, on the request of Spain.

The draft bill described Gibraltar as a "colony of the British crown". That formulation had been rejected by Moraes representing the European Parliament's position.

Another committee, including Spanish MEPs, earlier had unanimously supported a text without reference to Gibraltar.

And the EU commission's original proposal also made no reference to Gibraltar being a colony.

Gibraltar voted to remain British sovereign territory in a referendum in 2002.

The decision to remove Moraes was made at a meeting on Monday (1 April) of party representatives on legal issues citing conflict of interest.

"I have been removed from the Brexit visa waiver file following a request from the highest decision making body in the European Parliament. This is because I stood up to clear manipulation of this important and added-value law for UK citizens and citizens across the EU27," Moraes said in a statement.

"I was not prepared to see Spain hold this file hostage in the European Council, with an addition that described Gibraltar legally as a 'colony'. This was a misuse of our legislative duties," he added, saying there was no legal requirement for the footnote on Gibraltar in the visa waiver bill.

The draft was put forward in February, and after five meetings, so-called trilogues between the council, commission, and parliament, there was no progress.

The pressure was growing as a possible no-deal on 12 April could mean visa-free travel needs to be ensured fast.

Because the visa issue was considered to be technical and not political, and needed to move quickly through the institutions, the chair of the relevant EP committee, in this case Moraes, who heads the civil liberties committee, was elected by his peers to handle the file.

The 26 member states did not exert pressure on Spain to tone down its line, even though Moraes made compromise proposals. An EU diplomat earlier said the council pushed the parliament to move the British MEP aside.

Spain is heading into elections later in April, and far-right party Vox, which made a strong showing in Andalusian elections in December last year, is expected to win around 10 percent at the general elections. That would make it the first far-right party in Spain to gain so much ground since the country transitioned into democracy in the late 1970s.

"Despite all the various compromise proposals from us we have been met with something of a brick wall from council due, we believe, to Spain lobbying hard for the maintenance of the word 'colony' in the footnote," Moraes said in his statement.

Czech MEP Petr Jezek, who is part of the parliament's negotiating team on the file, said the European Parliament "shot itself in the foot' the decision to remove Moraes.

"I am deeply disappointed with the decision to remove the chairman of the LIBE [civil liberties] committee as rapporteur for the regulation on visa exemptions, specifically for UK nationals in the event of a no-deal," the liberal politician said in a statement.

Jezek said he considers it "scandalous that such a decision has been taken purely on the basis of nationality and therefore the assumed bias of the rapporteur", adding that Moraes represented entirely fairly the EP position on this file.

"It will shoot itself in the head - if it abandons its own position and accepts the council's entirely unhelpful position," Jezek said.

"This will imply that the parliament is not needed to draft legislation, that it can be abolished, and that the council should alone decide on EU legislation," the Czech MEP added.

The legislation is expected to be voted on by the plenary in the European parliament on Thursday.

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