British MEP loses Brexit visa role over Gibraltar row

British MEP loses Brexit visa role over Gibraltar row
Photo: AFP
A British member of the European Parliament lost his role negotiating a post-Brexit visa law on Monday, amid a dispute over a draft that refers to Gibraltar as a colony.

As chairman of the parliament's civil liberties and justice committee, Claude Moraes had been guiding negotiations on a draft law to issue visa waivers to Britons once their country leaves the European Union.

“Coordinators met earlier today and decided to change the rapporteur on the Brexit visa related file,” Moraes, a member of Britain's Labour Party, confirmed, adding that Bulgarian member Sergei Stanishev will take charge.   

File photo of Moraes talking to journalists in Brussels. Photo: AFP

Diplomats told AFP that EU member states had pushed for Moraes to be bumped from the visa law talks because he was reluctant to accept a draft referring to Gibraltar as “a colony of the British crown.”

A parliamentary official told AFP that EU leaders had decided Moraes had a “conflict of interest” and that speaker Antonio Tajani had informed him of this, without explicitly asking him to step down. 

But some of Moraes' colleagues denounced the intervention, suggesting that the lawmaker had been forced aside.    

Czech liberal and committee colleague Petr Jezek said the parliament had “shot itself in the foot” by removing a member who had been faithfully representing the body's position on the law.  

And a Conservative British MEP, Daniel Dalton said Moraes had “been forced out for rightly opposing Spanish attempts to describe Gibraltar as a colony in the text. Gibraltar is British.”

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo described his removal as a “disgraceful episode” and “the sort of behaviour that gives succour to the cause of euroscepticism around the EU”

“The removal of Claude Moraes from the post of rapporteur is unhelpful, unfair and unwise on behalf of the European Parliament. Mr Moraes was not just defending the British Citizens of Gibraltar,” Picardo said in a statement from Number 6.

“Moraes was defending the decision of the European Parliament, which has, in effect, now folded in the face of pressure from the European Council, thereby entirely castrating the Parliament's role in the Trilogue process.”

Spain has a long-standing claim on the rocky territory on its southern shore, while the British government insists it be treated as part of the “UK family” in Brexit talks.

In November, the European Commission suggested that after Britain leaves the bloc — as it currently plans to do on April 12 — Britons who want to make short stays on the continent would receive a visa waiver. 

Negotiations on the text of a law have bogged down, however, because of Spain's insistence that it reflect Gibraltar's status as what the United Nations terms a “non self-governing” territory.

MEPs want to adopt the proposed law next Thursday, but the text must first be agreed with the Commission, which is the EU executive, and the European Council, which represents member states, including Spain.

READ MORE: Gibraltar after Brexit: why Spain, not Ireland will decide the UK’s fate

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