‘Being ripped away!’ Row over hated Brexit deal is turning heads away from another crisis

Spain: James Cleverly is asked about Gibraltar entry ‘stunts’

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The number of reports on the Northern Ireland Protocol has surged since the electoral victory of Sinn Fein earlier this month. The language in the negotiations is also becoming more extreme, with continued threats from London over the triggering of Article 16 and, from Brussels, signals a trade war could be brewing.

At the same time, progress is being made in talks over the future status of Gibraltar.

The Rock’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said this week: “We all continue to be strongly optimistic that we will be able to conclude a safe and secure agreement between the UK and the EU in relation to Gibraltar for the benefit of all parties, in particular the people of Gibraltar and of the region.

“The positive tenor of the current round of the negotiations this week confirms my own view in this respect.”

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib is, however, far less optimistic about the state of the talks.

He argued they on course to deliver disastrous consequences for the UK.

Mr Habib told Express.co.uk: “All the focus is on Northern Ireland but Gibraltar too is being ripped away from the United Kingdom.

“Unless our Government wakes up to that danger it will be subsumed by Spain and the EU without even a murmur.

“Gibraltar is not part of the United Kingdom, it is not riven with a sectarian divide and it overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU.

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“None of that means, however, that it should cease to be a British Overseas Territory without its people’s consent.”

He added: “That is what is happening right now.”

The Brexit Watch Chairman expressed particular concerns over Brussels proposals to scrap checks on goods at the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, despite continued checks on goods moving within the UK in Northern Ireland, and the “likely inclusion of Gibraltar in the Schengen zone”.

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EU leaders are also looking to establish a new “level playing field”, which could see Gibraltar being tied “dynamically” to EU laws (meaning adoptions to laws would also have to be followed), as well as a “robust governance mechanism”.

Despite the focus on talks in Northern Ireland, Mr Habib insisted these tabled motions “go much further” than anything in the Protocol.

In a stark message, he warned: “If adopted into a treaty, they would result in Gibraltar seceding to Spain in short order.”

Mr Habib added it is not just the national discussion which is failing to consider the future of the Rock, but Whitehall too, asking: “Is anyone in Number 10 awake?”

It could be that the talks on the Protocol themselves begin to draw more attention to the efforts in Gibraltar, given recent threats.

The UK Government last year highlighted the two rows were “very, very different” and “very, very separate”.

But an EU insider this week told Bloomberg the bloc could “halt talks” on the status of Gibraltar if Northern Ireland negotiations fall.

This came around the same time EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic insisted “we in the European Union never work with threats” and “never work with blackmail”.

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