Jennie Walsh: Why Gibraltar’s first minister won’t rule out a third sovereignty referendum

Fabian Picardo’s recent warning that Gibraltar will not accept any compromise on jurisdiction or control as a price for new post-Brexit trading arrangements between the UK and the EU applying to the territory, has been followed by a suggestion that his government will not rule out holding a third referendum on the issue of sovereignty.

The Rock’s chief minister’s pledge that he will not do a deal with the EU that excluded Gibraltar, made in a an interview with Sky news, will be welcomed by the many Unite members, Gibraltar residents, Gibraltarians and EU residents who cross the border between Spain and the Rock every day.

Unite has always been clear they are not bargaining chips, but people with families, roots and connections; people who make a lasting contribution to the community.

It was therefore equally welcome to see comments made by Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis in the Spanish press that he didn’t want to “jeopardise” the complex Brexit negotiations by trying to gain authority over Gibraltar.

This indicates a change of tone in Madrid’s approach to the Rock, but the clause inserted into the EU’s negotiating position, which gives Spain a veto over any post-Brexit relationship between the EU and Gibraltar, remains.

While all the EU member-state parliaments will have a right of approval over the outcome of the negotiations and future deal, the arrangement with Spain appears to provide an additional right to unlock Gibraltar from the UK and to treat it on its own.

While Dastis acknowledged that a demand for a change in the status of the territory would not be acceptable to Britain or to Gibraltarians, he suggested that joint-British/Spanish sovereignty would enable residents to get Spanish nationality on top of the British one and potentially enable Gibraltar to stay in the EU – a proposal rejected by Picardo.

He told the Gibraltar Chronicle that in spite of the apparent “good awakening” in Spain to the fact that the people of Gibraltar would “never compromise” on sovereignty, he could not rule out the need “to demonstrate to the world” the strength of feeling of the people of the Rock, if necessary in a referendum.

Len McCluskey’s call for a “special status” for Gibraltar in order that its open border with Spain after Brexit is preserved must be a fundamental demand of the British government’s negotiations.

Fabian Picardo has received “cast-iron” assurances from Brexit minister David Davis that he would not do a trade deal if it didn’t include Gibraltar, where Gibraltar is relevant to it.

But Unite’s general secretary has made clear that any deal signed between the UK and the EU must acknowledge how Gibraltar is uniquely exposed to a hard Brexit and how deep the implications are for Unite members and other workers there are.

It is, quite simply, the greatest challenge the people of Gibraltar have faced in a generation.

But with special status, the Rock would retain all the benefits it currently needs to sustain and develop its economy, including freedom of movement for Gibraltarians, as part of the EU exit package.

Download Unite’s document “Building Solidarity Across Borders: Gibraltar and Brexit” here