Gibraltar Chief Minister warns Spain 'could pounce' if UK votes for Brexit

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The Independent Online

Fabien Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, has waded into the latest row with Spain over the Rock’s sovereignty, saying Madrid could “pounce” if the UK votes to leave the European Union in June’s referendum.

Spain’s centre-right government and Mr Picardo’s administration have clashed on regular occasions over sovereignty and other issues. 

The latest round began last Friday when Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel García-Margallo, gave an interview in which he said “we would be talking about Gibraltar the very next day”, if Britons vote to withdraw from the EU on the 23 June. 

“This is exactly the type of attitude that we have come to expect from Snr Margallo and it no doubt pervades so many others of his mindset,” said Mr Picardo. “It usefully sets out the danger that those who choose Brexit potentially create for Gibraltar if there is also a Partido Popular  [Mr García-Margallo’s centre-right party] government in Spain in the future. This is as vivid an illustration as possible of that.”

Reinforcing the point that Mr García-Margallo remains in his job in a caretaker capacity after December’s inconclusive Spanish general election, a statement issued by  Mr Picardo’s government added: “The declared intent of the caretaker Foreign Minister of Spain to bring the question of Gibraltar to the fore in the event of the UK and Gibraltar leaving the EU confirms the analysis that has already  been made. It is safer and more secure for Gibraltar to remain in the EU in order to deny  Mr Margallo the opportunity to pounce on us.”

Mr Picardo has been an advocate of the UK and Gibraltar staying in the EU and in the past has warned that Brexit might encourage Spanish claims over Gibraltar. 

The row is just the latest between the two men. Speaking to The Independent last November, Mr Picardo said Mr García-Margallo was lying when he claimed in another interview that Madrid’s policy towards Gibraltar was beginning to “bear fruit”.

The Foreign Office in London has made it clear that Gibraltar’s sovereignty is not up for discussion, regardless of the Brexit referendum. 

That has not stopped others reacting excitedly to  Mr García-Margallo’s comments. Julia Reid, a Ukip MEP who speaks on Gibraltar for the party, said they sounded more like an “old communiqué from Buenos Aires, rather than a new one from Madrid”.

“Gibraltar has nothing to fear. Any move for the outpost, which is as British as Britain itself, would be repelled,” she said. “And even if Britain votes to leave the EU, it doesn’t make any difference. Gibraltar will still be British territory and that’s that.” 

The referendum takes place just three days before Spaniards are expected to go back to the ballot box in another general election. 

Mr García-Margallo’s PP party emerged from the December ballot with the most seats but fell well short of a majority. After months of coalition talks, it has become apparent that widespread corruption allegations against the PP have made alliances with other parties impossible.