UK could share sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain to resolve Brexit row, Lord Hain says
The status of Gibraltar has proved a last-minute obstacle in Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to finalise an exit deal with the EU.
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez has vowed to “veto Brexit” if there are no changes to the UK’s draft agreement with Brussels.
It comes ahead of an EU summit on Sunday where national leaders are due to sign off on a deal.
Lord Hain served as Europe minister in Tony Blair’s New Labour government, during which time he helped negotiate a deal in which the UK would share sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain.
Residents of the British territory overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, with almost 99% voting against being co-owned by Spain.
However, speaking to Sky News, Lord Hain revived the prospect of sharing Gibraltar with Spain as the UK prepares to leave the EU, claiming he was “right” about the plan in the early 2000s.
“When I was Europe minister I negotiated a co-sovereignty deal with Madrid that was signed off and then the Spanish prime minister [Jose Maria] Aznar got cold feet at the last moment,” he said.
“And the Gibraltarians, to be fair, voted overwhelmingly against it.
“Actually, if that was still on the agenda and it isn’t – it isn’t on the agenda – that would resolve Gibraltar’s predicament because it could stay British but also be, as it were, part-Spanish.
“Nothing would change on The Rock.”
Spain has no ability to “veto Brexit” or unilaterally block the UK’s withdrawal agreement, with the 585-page legal text only needing to be ratified by a qualified majority of EU members.
However, if a final agreement is reached on the UK’s future relationship with the EU – which is due to be negotiated during the Brexit transition period – it will then have to be agreed by each and every EU member state.
A draft 26-page political declaration setting out the framework for the future UK-EU relationship was published on Thursday, with the document attacked by critics for its vagueness.
Lord Hain, who supports a second EU referendum, said: “I think what is behind the Spanish complaint here is, like everybody else, they don’t know what the future arrangements will be.”
He suggested Spain was not using Brexit as a means of reasserting its long-held sovereignty claim on Gibraltar.
“I don’t think it’s a grab for Gibraltar, I don’t think there’s any question of that,” he said.
“I think they’re concerned about cigarette smuggling, money-laundering things like that.”
Lord Hain described Gibraltar’s 96% Remain vote at the 2016 EU referendum as a “Saddam Hussein majority”, adding: “I can quite understand why, because their whole way of life is dependent on cooperation with Spain and they would get that if they remained in the EU.”
Downing Street dismissed any suggestion of reopening talks over the UK’s draft withdrawal agreement ahead of Sunday’s summit, amid Spain’s demands.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister said: “We’ve negotiated openly and constructively with the EU on Gibraltar and worked closely with Spain – we are making sure we agree a deal that works for the whole of the UK family.
“The withdrawal agreement isn’t being reopened. We will work with the governments of Gibraltar and Spain.”
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