Unite the Union yesterday accused the Leader of the Opposition, Elliott Phillips, of fuelling “unnecessary hatred” between Gibraltar and the Campo following comments he made in Parliament regarding frontier workers.
Unite was reacting to Mr Phillips having suggested that the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, had given away the Rock’s “biggest bargaining chip” by supporting the Brexit deal and its Gibraltar elements which, he said, “protects frontier workers permanently”.
His comments drew strong rebuke from Mr Picardo at the time, who accused Mr Phillips of “plumbing the depths” by suggesting frontier workers should have been used as a “bargaining chip” in the Brexit negotiations.
And yesterday, the union expressed “extreme concern” over Mr Phillips comments, which it likened to far right ideologies.
Despite the flak, Mr Phillips said last night that he stood by his comments and insisted: “The Government has chosen to accept a bad deal which protects frontier workers permanent but not our residents permanently.”
“I stand by my statement and I repeat that the Government has given Spain a say in our affairs, failed to secure enduring benefits for this community and protected frontier workers permanently without anything in return,” Mr Phillips said.
In a statement the union said: “At a time when extreme right wing politics is flourishing in Europe, Unite the Union views with extreme concerns the comments made by the leader of opposition, Elliott Phillips during the Parliamentary session of March 25, 2019.”
“Today we are seeing how an extreme right wing party in Spain, Vox, is influencing the political agenda of other political parties like, Ciudadanos and El Partido Popular in issues like gender politics and Immigration.”
“We cannot allow for Politicians in Gibraltar to fall into the traps being set by far right ideologists who are today negatively influencing individuals at a local level and in particular in Social Media, with policies of hatred and divide that affect all working people.”
“Therefore, Unite rejects the comments made in parliament, namely those that propose we should hold a section of the working class to ransom by suggesting they are used as a bargaining chip,” the union said.
“This unnecessary creation of hatred between two communities will not benefit Gibraltar’s economic, social or political survival and will prove detrimental to the workers and business community in Gibraltar.”
In a statement Mr Phillips said: “It is clear beyond doubt that the Government led the negotiations and have chosen to sign Gibraltar up a to deal which they said “was good for the UK and therefore good for Gibraltar”.
“The Government are now saying that the “deal is the wrong deal for the UK and not the best deal for Gibraltar”. The Opposition have been entirely consistent, the Government’s deal is a bad deal and no amount of spin is going to change that.”
On frontier workers, he added: “This is not about inciting discord. It is a statement of fact that there has been a negotiation and that frontier workers have been protected permanently.”
“It is also a fact that in that negotiation, the Government have signed up to a deal that does not protect our residents in the same way.”
Mr Phillips had made the comments during a debate on proposed amendments to the Tobacco Act stemming from measures agreed in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
That agreement, Mr Phillips reiterated, was “bad for Gibraltar”.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday he said: “There is nothing in our view that secures enduring benefits for our community.”
“This deal provides for Spain having a say in our affairs and it protects frontier workers permanently. We have on numerous occasions raised serious concerns about the government’s lack of strategic direction and inconsistency in respect of Brexit.”
“We believe it was wrong for the Chief Minister of the day to align himself with the Prime Minister, it was wrong for the Chief Minister not to pursue a differentiated for the people of this community, and it was wrong for the Chief Minister to give away the biggest bargaining chip on frontier workers without obtaining nothing [sic] permanent and enduring for Gibraltar.”