The Government of Gibraltar will leave “nothing to chance” and “no stone unturned” in Brexit negotiations.
This was the message from the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia during a budget speech on Monday.
Dr Garcia highlighted the Brexit-related work that the Government has done over the past year, which he described as “intense”.
He said the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Attorney General Michael Llamas, QC, and he had “lived and breathed Brexit practically on a daily basis”.
“There is less than a year to go until we leave the European Union,” Dr Garcia said. “We did not want to leave. We did not vote to leave.”
“But now we have to get on with it. And that is exactly what we are doing.”
Dr Garcia noted the work carried out by the individuals dealing with different aspects of Brexit for Gibraltar, including those in London and Brussels.
He described Brexit as an “incredibly complicated affair” for the United Kingdom itself, but said Gibraltar had the additional political challenge posed by Spain.
The European Council’s decision to provide Spain with a veto on Gibraltar was “shameful”, Dr Garcia said, adding it was symptomatic of the attitude that led the UK to vote for Brexit.
He said this was a “betrayal” for the 96% of voters who voted to remain, and this veto clause did the opposite.
The Gibraltar Government continues to engage closely with the UK Government on the details of Brexit, and is delighted with the “solid support” from London.
The latest meeting of the UK-Gibraltar Joint Ministerial Council provided reassurance for the financial services industry and online gaming operators in terms of continued access to the United Kingdom market.
British citizens resident in Gibraltar will be eligible for home student fees and Gibraltar would continue to refer an unlimited number of patients to the UK for free elective treatment.
Dr Garcia highlighted the “solid support for Gibraltar” across the political spectrum in Westminster.
He said the Government continues to keep its friends in Parliament informed and a high visibility profile for Gibraltar, adding “it is important that our issues are not lost in the wider Brexit agenda”.
Gibraltar is no exception to the 20 territories impacted by the UK’s departure from the EU.
There are seven areas under discussion relating to Gibraltar’s exit from the EU, including tax transparency and cooperation; police, customs and judicial cooperation; the border; tobacco; the airport and aviation; the environment and the legal form that any possible agreements will take.
Dr Garcia said Gibraltar is willing to engage Spain in a “positive and constructive manner”, but made clear that sovereignty is not up for discussion.
Dr Garcia said the UK’s departure from the EU will require considerable legal and administrative efforts, adding that the departure will be enshrined in an EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
The first step is that all directly applicable EU law will be converted into Gibraltar domestic law on exit day, and the second is that all Gibraltar laws that give effect to EU rights and obligations will be preserved.
Dr Garcia said over 20,000 pieces of legislation had been examined as part of the process, adding: “This is perhaps the most far-reaching legislative review ever undertaken in Gibraltar, veritably a mammoth task and the Government is very grateful to everyone involved in the exercise.”
Interest in Gibraltar continues to grow in Brussels as Gibraltar prepares to leave the EU, Dr Garcia said.
The Gibraltar office team continues to gather vital intelligence “on the ground” in Brussels, which has been pivotal in informing the Government of developments in each EU institution concerning Brexit, Dr Garcia said.
This has helped to educate influencers about Gibraltar’s position in matters that are of critical relevance, and the network of contacts and supporters continues to grow, including an informal “Friends of Gibraltar” group.
Many of the MEPs they have met are among the most influential and some chair parliamentary committees which are of most relevance to Gibraltar.
The Chief Minister and Dr Garcia met with the EU’s Deputy Chief Brexit Negotiator Sabine Weyand and other members from her team last year and further meetings have been held with every member state from the European Council since last year.
GIBRALTAR HOUSE – LONDON
Dr Garcia said the office on the Strand provides the Government with an effective platform to interact with ministers and officials in London and Brexit working groups from Gibraltar continue to meet with their UK counterparts.
Working with the House of Commons and House of Lords is a priority for Gibraltar House, and Gibraltar has “enjoyed considerable support” in parliamentary debates, he said.
Dr Garcia said Gibraltar House had “evolved” over the past two years to become the conduit for information-gathering, analysis and contact with UK government officials, parliamentarians and Brexit think tanks.
“The networks that have been established and the detailed technical work that results from this engagement will become increasingly important to us as we leave the European Union,” he said.
“The indications are that this work will expand exponentially.”
Dr Garcia also said the annual Gibraltar Day event in London had been transformed and a new focus given to more targeted events which provided greater value for money.
Dr Garcia said Gibraltar’s exit from the EU will change the dynamics of enhanced use of Gibraltar Airport, as the Rock will no longer be entitled to inclusion in EU civil aviation legislation by virtue of membership to the union.
“The Cordoba Agreement of 2006 provides a basis for discussion going forward,” Dr Garcia said, and hoped contact with Spain’s new Socialist government may “produce a sensible way forward”.