By Len McClusky
Gibraltar is uniquely exposed to the hard Brexit being pursued by Theresa May as she prepares to trigger Article 50.
The implications for Unite members here are deep and serious. The extent of trade and social links between Gibraltar and Spain present the Rock’s industries with profound challenges.
Unite members, Gibraltar residents, Gibraltarians and EU residents cross the border between Spain and the Rock every day.
They are not bargaining chips, but people with families, roots and connections, people who make a lasting contribution to the community.
Freedom of movement across the frontier is part of Gibraltar’s lifeblood. Tourism generates significant revenue, but non-resident labour is pivotal to the economy and for the construction and health and social care sectors in particular.
It is simply irresponsible for hard line Brexiteers to trumpet “taking back control” of the UK’s borders when this risks doing fundamental damage to Gibraltar’s income, jobs and services.
The British government must stop making the EU exit strategy a competition between strong borders and the economy. Which is why it is more important than ever that Unite, under my continued leadership, demands a deal that supports jobs, preserve workers’ rights and conditions and provides continued access to markets, investment and a positive forward industrial strategy for decent jobs – for the UK and Gibraltar.
Yet one of my opponents in this election believes there is no point in arguing against a hard Brexit to protect free trade and our members’ rights and jobs, and thinks that leaving the single market is a price worth paying to reduce immigration.
He has told Unite’s members to face reality rather than even debate what is best for working people during these Brexit negotiations.
Some 7,500 permanent workers in Gibraltar are Unite members. They know very well what “reality” looks like and need someone who will stand with them and work with the government of Gibraltar to ensure tariff-free access to the single market remains in order to defend the Rock’s economic model.
They have told me how concerned they are that if the worst kind of a Tory Brexit happens then businesses in Gibraltar could review future investment or relocate, as we are seeing happening in key manufacturing industries in the UK.
Public Sector investment to grow services for the people of Gibraltar will also be endangered by uncertainty for business and finance, bringing with it the risk of job losses in the private sector as well as cuts and austerity measures imposed on the public sector.
I understand too the concerns our members have if the Madrid government tries to use Gibraltar as a bargaining tool during the Brexit negotiations.
Unite is a fighting back union and Unite members are the backbone of the Rock. They keep the streets clean, they work in construction, logistics, engineering and many other sectors. So when they are standing up for a better deal, they are standing up for the people of Gibraltar. And they know that with me as general secretary, this union is with them all the way.