22nd Mar 2018

EU rounds wagons in Gibraltar dispute

  • “We’re very happy to reaffirm our support” (Photo:

The European Commission has put its “full support” behind giving Spain a veto on the economic future of Gibraltar.

Commission spokesman Margiritis Schinas said on Monday (3 April) that veto, as proposed by the European Council last week, had “the full backing of the European Commission, of president Juncker and of Michel Barnier, let there be no doubt about that”.

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He said the Commission president and Barnier, its Brexit negotiator, had “worked closely” on the EU guidelines for Brexit that included the veto.

“We’re very happy to reaffirm our support”, he said.

The EU foreign service chief, Federica Mogherini, declined to get involved, saying Brexit wold not be a foreign policy issue until the UK left the bloc.

The spectacle of the EU institutions and the 27 remaining member states taking a common line against an outgoing member is a first in EU history.

It has also seen some British politicians lose their temper, with Spain, also on Monday, urging a more civil approach.

"The Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure”, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said at a conference in Madrid.

He spoke after Michael Howard, a former head of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, said on Sunday the UK would go to war with Spain if it threatened Gibraltar’s sovereignty.

British prime minister Theresa May made light of his remarks on Monday.

She told reporters on a flight to Jordan that the issue would be solved via dialogue, including with Spain, and not through confrontation. “It’s definitely jaw-jaw,” she said, according to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, was less joky at an EU meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. “The sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged and is not going to change," he said.

May’s spokesman the same day in London declined to criticise Howard and said the former Tory chief had merely tried to show Britain’s “resolve” on the matter.

Fabian Picardo, the Gibraltar chief minister, also tried to keep tension high.

He called EU Council chief Donald Tusk, who signed the EU guidelines “a cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children” in an interview with Reuters.

“This is clear Spanish bullying … quite pernicious”, he said.

Brexit talks turn ugly on Gibraltar

Britain has said Spain can have no new powers over Gibraltar, as Brexit prompts hard talk on sovereignty, security, and borders.

EU guidelines set out two-phase Brexit talks

According to the draft negotiating guidelines, the EU-27 would open negotiations on future EU-UK relations when "sufficient progress" has been made on citizens' rights, the British financial bill and the status of the border in Ireland.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: Between a rock and a hard place

As EU commission chief Juncker put it, "everybody will lose" if pig-headed nationalism in the UK and the EU led to a messy and expensive divorce. The controversy over Gibraltar doesn't bode well.

'Decisive step' in Brexit ahead of EU summit

The UK and the EU have reached a legal agreement on citizens' rights and the financial settlement, but with still little progress on the future of the Irish border.

No-deal Brexit could cost €65bn a year

A no-deal Brexit would cost UK and EU firms £58 billion (€65bn) a year, but the cost could be just £31 billion if the UK stayed in a customs union.


No precedents for post-Brexit Irish border

Glib comparisons with the US-Canada border, or municipal boundaries within London, do not stand up to scrutiny - or the reality of an internal Irish border with 275 crossing points in a land beset by 30 years of armed conflict.

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