NOT a lot of people know this yet, but the EU has scored a monumental own goal when it gave in to Spanish pressure to exclude Gibraltar from post-Brexit agreements between the Union and the UK.
I refer to the leaked draft letter which the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, hopes to send the British Prime Minister.
I shall explain.
There are 27 remaining Member States and countless regions within them who, to some extent or another, have links with the UK.
The North Sea and fishing and prospecting rights immediately come to mind. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Holland all have special interests in this.
There are hundreds of other examples of greater or lesser degrees in agriculture, industry and employment.
Yet, on any reading of the draft response by Mr Tusk, the only interest meriting EU attention in an otherwise short, 22 paragraph letter, is… Spain’s ambition to annex Gibraltar.
Mr Tusk, born in Gdansk, which is now part of Poland but used to be German – indeed his father fought for the Wermacht, surely does not realise the continental-sized blunder that he has made (I mention his place of birth because of its similarities to Gibraltar in terms of territorial claims).
Let me explain further about the blunder.
To give an effective post-Brexit veto to Spain on Gibraltar is guaranteed to irritate other Member States who will claim, with good reason, that their interests are as important as those claimed by Spain.
Near the beginning of the draft letter, President Tusk writes: “In these negotiations the Union will act as one”. How can he say this, and in the same document agree to give a post-Brexit veto to a single country?
It does not take a an expert in negotiating agreements to conclude that the veto blows a gaping hole under the EU’s negotiation waterline.
It makes a nonsense of the claim that “the Union will act as one”.
It sets a precedent which will come back to haunt Mr Tusk’s successor (I expect, given his performance, that he will soon be replaced or resign).
By ‘picking on’ Gibraltar, the hapless Mr Tusk has wreaked even more damage on the EU by effectively bringing the law relating to European citizenship into derision and disrepute.
Article 20 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides that: “Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.”
Now, I know that there is an argument that once a Member State leaves the EU, its citizens lose EU Citizenship. I do not agree, but this is not the time to discuss that. It will soon become a topic of major debate.
What is clear, beyond any doubt is that today Gibraltarians (and indeed all UK nationals) still have European Citizenship.
Mr Tusk betrays the whole edifice of European integration by discriminating against the group of EU Citizens living in Gibraltar.
He discriminates against us by making an exception to the territory in which we live (indeed in which our people have lived for more than 300 years).
This is what the offending paragraph says (and mark that it is one of only 22 paragraphs, not one of thousands or even hundreds):
“After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
So, if European citizens can be so thoughtlessly disadvantaged, what is the value of European citizenship?
Mr Tusk and his associates clearly don’t think that it is worth anything. Perhaps their mindsets are affected by the way in which entire populations were sold out in Mr Tusk’s own back yard in the 1940s, where Polish towns became German and vice-versa, without a single thought given to the inhabitants.
Maybe this ‘mindset’ shows why the EU is doomed to failure.
Many of us in the British Isles and Southern Europe just do not think in the same way as the German dominated bureaucracy of which Mr Tusk is a chief executive.
At the June 23 2016 referendum, 96% of the Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU. They could not have expected this blundering betrayal. Now that we can see the reality of the EU, the ‘European Project’ has become an object of revulsion among us.
Over the weekend of the leak, I was approached by a couple of gentlemen in a bar who, knowing that I am a lawyer, asked what penalty they would suffer if they tore down the EU flags that fly around Gibraltar.
As a supporter of the rule of law, I of course said that that would be illegal and they should not do so.
However, their sentiment reflects the catastrophic damage that Mr Tusk has done to the image of the EU in Gibraltar.
That Spanish MEPs would try to use Brexit to damage Gibraltar was as predictable as it is to say that fish stinks after a few days when left in the open air.
I think that on this occasion, the ever-alert Spanish lobby in the corridors of European power may have gone too far. The weekend of the April 1, 2017 will be remembered as the day that Spanish diplomacy gave Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, the keys to 10 Downing Street.
Madrid’s triumphalism is, for all the reasons described above, completely misplaced.