BREXIT: UK says ‘significant progress’ in Gibraltar talks with Spain

Britain and Spain have made "significant progress" in talks over an agreement to secure Gibraltar's post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Wednesday.

Spain's Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares Bueno (L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly
Spain's Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares Bueno (L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

“Significant progress has been made…including (in) discussions on the text of the treaty and its implementation,” he told reporters at a press conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares.

Although Brexit threw Gibraltar’s future into question, raising fears it would create a new “hard border” with the EU, negotiators reached a landmark framework deal for it to benefit from the rules of the Schengen zone just hours before Britain’s departure from the bloc on January 1st, 2021.

Negotiators from Britain, Spain and the EU have been meeting to thrash out the details of the agreement in order to ensure freedom of movement along the border of the British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

“We were discussing how this could unleash an unprecedented level of economic growth for all those in the region,” the British minister said after several hours of talks with Albares, which were to carry on into the evening.

“We are fully invested in agreeing a deal as soon as possible,” Cleverly added, expressing confidence it was possible “to agree a treaty that protects our respective positions on sovereignty”.

Joint use of the airport

Gibraltar’s economy provides a lifeline for some 15,000 people who cross in and out to work every day, most of whom are Spanish and live in the impoverished neighbouring city of La Linea.

“We have both agreed to move forward as quickly as possible to reach a definitive agreement,” said Albares.

On November 25th, he laid out details of a proposal presented to Britain under which the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar would be removed to ease freedom of movement and on Wednesday he said it would also involve “the joint use of the (enclave’s) airport”.

At his own press conference shortly afterwards, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who joined the ministerial talks by video link, said it was “a very positive meeting”.

But he said “areas of disagreement nonetheless still remain”, noting Gibraltar had already “rejected the concept of joint use of the airport”.

With a land area of just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles), Gibraltar is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents and the deal was crucial to avoid slowing cross-border goods trade with new customs procedures.

Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back in a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the frontier.

READ MORE: Why is a post-Brexit Gibraltar deal taking so long?

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Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Spain's leftwing government said Monday it was looking to modify a landmark law to fight sexual violence to close a loophole that has let some convicted offenders reduce their sentences.

Spanish government to alter sexual consent law to fix loopholes

Since the law came into force in October, around 20 offenders have reportedly been released and 300 others have seen their sentences reduced.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party has announced plans to reform the law.

“In the coming days, we will present a draft bill, a meticulous text that will provide a response and a solution to these undesired effects which we obviously don’t want to see repeated in the future,” said Education Minister Pilar Alegria, who is also party spokeswoman.

“Logically, the best way to specifically address these undesired effects would be to increase the penalties for sexual offenders,” she told reporters.

READ ALSO – ‘Only yes means yes’: Spain tightens sexual consent law

The controversy erupted barely six weeks after the entry into force of the “Only yes means yes” law, which reformed the criminal code in a bid to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The overall aim of the law was to shift the focus in cases of sexual violence from the victims’ resistance to a women’s free and clearly expressed consent.

To this end, the charge of sexual abuse was dropped and everything was grouped under sexual assault. The range of penalties was widened to include all possibilities under that single term.

READ ALSO: How Spain is trying to fix its new trouble-ridden sexual consent law

The law effectively reduces the minimum and the maximum punishment in certain specific cases and hundreds have applied to have their sentences revised.

‘Consent must remain at the centre’

Over the weekend, reports that the government was mulling changes to the law prompted tensions between the ruling Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos, which has championed the legislation.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) had quickly moved to offer parliamentary support if the Socialists wanted to push through the changes without Podemos.

But Podemos reacted angrily. Equality Minister Irene Montero warned that such a move would mean the law reverting to its original format and she vowed to do “whatever necessary” to ensure consent was kept at the centre.

Her stance was hammered home by party leader Ione Belarra on Monday morning. “Consent has to remain at the heart of the criminal code. We can’t go back to the evidentiary ordeal of proving we resisted enough or that we hadn’t been drinking,” tweeted Belarra, the social rights minister.

Socialist ministers insisted the planned changes would merely address the loopholes and would not touch the issue of consent.

“The correction and modification of the law is designed to avoid any undesired outcomes in the future and the issue of consent will remain at the centre of the law against sexual assault so that women avoid enduring the ordeal of proof in court,” cabinet minister Felix Bolanos, a close Sánchez aide, told reporters.

Until now, rape victims had needed to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation. Without that, the offence was considered “sexual abuse” and carried lighter penalties than rape.

With “sexual abuse” dropped from the reformed criminal code and a much wider range of offences grouped under “sexual assault”, a broader range of penalties was required to ensure proportionality.

At the weekend, Montero said it was only a “minority” of judges who had applied the law incorrectly.

She said there were similar teething problems with Spain’s landmark 2004 domestic violence legislation, the first in Europe, which faced “almost 200 questions” about its legality in the first years after it was passed.