The UK Government yesterday guaranteed Gibraltar’s continued access to the UK market for financial services and online gaming against the backdrop of Brexit, sending a clear message of reassurance to a critical sector of the Rock’s economy.
UK ministers also provided assurance that British citizens resident in Gibraltar would continue to enjoy access to higher education in UK universities at the same rates as UK students, as is currently the case.
The UK Government further agreed to maintain the current reciprocal arrangements between the UK and Gibraltar on health services, as well as enhance cooperation on environmental and fisheries matters.
The agreements announced yesterday cement months of detailed work under the framework of the Joint Ministerial Council [JMC] between the UK and Gibraltar on Brexit matters.
The UK market accounts for over 90% of all business conducted by Gibraltar-based companies under EU single market rules.
Yesterday’s guarantees will send a solid message of reassurance to Gibraltar-based companies that their access to this key market will be maintained irrespective of the impact of Brexit.
Under the measures, the UK will guarantee Gibraltar financial services firms’ access to UK markets as now until 2020.
Ahead of this, the UK Government will work closely with the Government of Gibraltar to design a replacement framework to endure beyond 2020 similarly based on shared, high standards of regulation and enforcement, and underpinned by modern arrangements for information-sharing, transparency and regulatory co-operation.
Gambling operators based in Gibraltar will continue to access the UK market after Brexit in the same way they do now, with both governments working towards an agreement to enable closer collaboration between gambling regulators in Gibraltar and the UK.
“Great care has rightly been taken by the UK and Gibraltar to ensure regulatory standards will be maintained between us in a manner that will be designed to assure customer protection and equivalence on regulatory outcomes going forward,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“Today our bilateral relationship grows stronger and the terms for it to endure are further cemented as we realise the commitment to maintain and enhance market access for Gibraltar service providers into the UK post-Brexit.”
The announcement was made in London after a meeting of the JMC chaired by the Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, Robin Walker, and attended by the Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan, and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen.
The Gibraltar delegation was led by Mr Picardo and included the Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for EU Exit, Dr Joseph Garcia, Attorney General Michael Llamas, Financial Secretary Albert Mena and UK Representative Dominique Searle.
The UK Government said the measures secured “the strong, historic and valued UK-Gibraltar relationship” both now and beyond Brexit.
“Today we have agreed a positive package deal on issues surrounding our exit from the EU, once again demonstrating that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Gibraltarians in our unwavering commitment to the UK-Gibraltar relationship,” Mr Walker said.
The UK Government acknowledged too the importance to Gibraltar-based companies of the announcement on continued barrier-free access to the UK.
“We know the people and businesses of Gibraltar have been asking for certainty, and we have heard them,” the Treasury’s Mr Glen said.
“We are ensuring that Gibraltar’s access to UK markets will continue unchanged until 2020, even in the unlikely event of no deal being reached.”
“This will give us the time we need to work with the Government of Gibraltar to design a new, modernised agreement, based on similar, high standards of regulation and enforcement.”
The agreements were broadly welcomed by the GSD Leader Keith Azopardi, who acknowledged their importance but nonetheless struck a note of caution.
Mr Azopardi said it was important “not to over-exaggerate the thrust of these measures”.
“There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to guarantee market access to financial services firms beyond 2020,” he said.
The developments were also welcomed in the House of Commons, where Conservative MP Bob Neill, a longstanding friend of Gibraltar and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gibraltar, said the agreements sent a clear message of the UK’s support for the Rock.
“This is a really important step to reinforce Britain’s commitment to stand 100 per cent behind the people of Gibraltar during and after Brexit and an important practical boost to continued confidence in the Rock’s thriving economy,” he said.
“It also underwrites our shared British identity by continuing the arrangements for our citizens to use key personal services in each other’s country – it’s what you do when you are part of the same family.”
Peter Isola, the senior partner at Gibraltar law firm ISOLAS, said the announcements yesterday represented an important and long-anticipated confirmation of commitments made by the UK to Gibraltar some months ago.
“I believe that this development serves to confirm the view that Gibraltar is poised to become a conduit for business into the UK post Brexit,” he said.
“It will also serve to increase confidence in the local market, one which is buoyed still further by a cautious optimism that we can retain a fully functioning border with Spain post-Brexit.”
“This, in tandem with the important growth in Gibraltar of the financial
Distributed Ledger technology industry, in which ISOLAS is leading the way, gives much for us to look forward to in terms of long term and sustainable levels of activity and growth in key areas of economic activity.”
Alongside the agreement on financial services and online gaming, the UK and Gibraltar governments agreement to enhance mechanisms to liaise on issues relating to the environment and fisheries that arise as a result of Brexit.
That liaison will include sharing information as openly as possible, the provision of specialist UK expertise across a range of policy areas to support Gibraltar with its own preparations, and exploring how Gibraltar’s interests might be promoted in future through regional or international agreements.
The UK also provided assurance to Gibraltar that after Brexit, British citizens resident in Gibraltar would continue to be eligible for higher education home fee status at English institutions.
The measure would apply both during the implementation period and afterwards, subject to concluding a reciprocal agreement for UK students studying at higher education institutions in Gibraltar.
The UK will maintain the current reciprocal healthcare arrangement between the UK and Gibraltar.
“This means that Gibraltar can continue to refer an unlimited number of their patients to the UK for free elective treatment,” the UK Government said in a statement.
The UK is committed to work closely with the Government of Gibraltar towards transport arrangements post EU Exit that support Gibraltar’s prosperity.
Yesterday Mr Picardo said the wide-ranging agreements would encourage growth in key sectors of the economy and were the product of positive, constructive discussions stretching back months.
“The work we have done with the teams led by Secretary of State David Davis at DeExEU and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the FCO is bearing fruit today,” he said.
“The UK – and in particular Mr Davis and Mr Johnson – has recognised the importance of market access for Gibraltar and Robin Walker and Sir Alan Duncan have worked hard with us to make the announcements today a reality.”
“There is a lot to celebrate in this and a lot of hard work to recognise on the part also of the team in Gibraltar, in particular the Deputy Chief Minister and the Attorney General, and in the UK FCO, DeExEU, Treasury, DCMS, Cabinet Office and Downing Street.”
“I extend the gratitude of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar to all involved.”