Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia has highlighted the importance of a fluid border for the array of European Union citizens who cross the border on a daily basis alongside Spanish cross-frontier workers.
Dr Garcia was speaking as part of a lecture at the University of Gibraltar. He delivered an in-depth analysis of Gibraltar’s 45-year long membership of the EU and what being in the EU has meant for the Rock.
Additionally, he probed what Gibraltar can expect once it leaves the European Union.
Focusing on the border, Dr Garcia drew a distinction between the debate here and that in relation to Northern Ireland.
“Their concern is more about the movement of goods than of people,” he said adding that Gibraltar is not in the Customs Union so the focus here is different.
“They do not want what is termed a hard Brexit with controls and check-points.”
“We have controls and checkpoints already.”
Therefore the debate here is about the intensity of those controls once Gibraltar leaves the European Union.
“This is important to residents on both sides.”
“It is also important to frontier workers,” Dr Garcia said flagging that approximately 50% of Gibraltar’s workforce are cross-frontier workers.
The vast majority are British expatriates and Spanish nationals but every EU nationality is represented.
He highlighted that there are over 8,000 Spanish frontier workers and that there are over 2,500 Brits who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar.
“But you may be surprised to hear that there are also: 113 Germans, 113 Irish citizens; 230 Italians, 164 Hungarian, 767 Portuguese, 403 Romanians; 204 Polish, and even 2 Luxembourgers.”
“We have the European Union of Frontier Workers right here in our 6.8 square kilometres.”
“The border is not only important to cross frontier workers but also to Gibraltarians and to the 10 million tourists who visit us each year.”
Fortunately, he said, the Spanish rhetoric with regard to the border has changed dramatically over the last two years.
“We have gone from Sr. Margallo’s threat that post-Brexit it would be ‘perfectly possible’ to close the border, to Sr. Dastis’ indications that the border “won’t suffer too many changes”, and to Sr. Sanchez’s comments in March when he stated that fluidity at the border was “fundamental”.”
He explained that there are legal solutions which exist which could secure the smooth passage of persons across the border even in a post-Brexit world.
He added that the Government has worked hard on different options and will continue to do so.
This comes a little over three months to go until the ‘critical’ October European Council when the
UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement is expected to be finalised.
Despite the decision to leave, which was clearly against the wishes of the vast majority in Gibraltar, Dr Garcia said the Gibraltar Government has taken decisive action.
“We have led with ambition, persistence and determination with a defined message and a clear set of objectives,” he said explaining that these objectives would allow Gibraltar’s economy to continue to flourish.
“Downing Street itself has repeated over the last 24 months that it will work for a Brexit deal which fully recognises the Rock’s priorities.”
“A deal that works for all parts of the UK family including Gibraltar.”
An important objective for Gibraltar was to maintain and enhance its trading relationship with the UK.
The UK Government has already made it absolutely clear that Gibraltar’s access to the UK market will remain unchanged post-Brexit, Dr Garcia told delegates.
“They have also made it clear that such access will not only be maintained but it will be broadened where possible.”
“Access to the UK market is essential to Gibraltar’s economic sustainability.”
“We now have that access.”
“We will keep it in the future.”
“Such assurances have not only been provided in respect of future trading arrangements.”
“We have also extracted from the UK Government commitments which will ensure the same treatment post-Brexit for our students and our patients.”
“We have agreed with the UK Department for International Trade to put in place a mechanism for ensuring that Gibraltar is consulted on the Free Trade Agreements the UK plans to negotiate outside the EU.”
“This is a new opening for us.”
“It will spur our renewed engagement with the Commonwealth.”