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Opinion & Analysis

‘Cutting off your nose to fire up his base’

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

By Marlene Hassan Nahon

Yesterday, in what can only be branded a bizarre circus act of national-populism, the Government rolled out a policy of reciprocity at the frontier, intensifying checks for people crossing into Gibraltar. This reckless decision, predictably, led to longer queues affecting both the local workforce and visitors.

For those lauding this as some strategic retaliation against Spain's stricter border checks, let's have a closer look at its implications:

• This Is Not Just About Spain: This isn’t some simple Spain-Gibraltar tiff. This impacts Gibraltarians, British expats, and global professionals who work here. What is the business establishment and its organisations saying about this decision? Silence, and we can guess why.

• Economic Self-Sabotage: Let's state the obvious: cross-border workers aren’t charity cases – they’re a fundamental part of our economy. They create wealth in our businesses. They pay and generate tax revenue. Essentially, we're reaping the benefits of talents subsidised by other nations, with workers choosing to put expensive skills to work for the benefit of our economy and/or public services. Workers with coveted skillsets avoid places with border nightmares, meaning that obstacles at the frontier make Gibraltar a less appealing destination to work or invest in.

• Jeopardise Essential Services: The GHA, the Care Agency, social services and many other vital public services are highly dependent on cross-frontier workers. If these people have more trouble crossing the frontier, inevitably the quality of these services will suffer, affecting the Gibraltarian public.

• It Will Be Ineffective: The Spanish central Government does not care one iota if a few thousand Campo workers have trouble getting to work on time, not even if they lose their jobs. They’ve historically sidelined regions like the Campo de Gibraltar, especially La Linea, and our Government's actions won’t change that long-standing indifference.

• Tourism on the Chopping Block: Visitors coming to Gibraltar will have their experiences tarnished further, and this will be reflected in the feedback generated by the Gibraltar tourist experience. This can dissuade future visitors from coming over at least throughout the month of September, the tail end of the high season in which there are still substantial profits to be made by our tourist industry.

Basically, when it comes to the frontier, we have to accept we simply have no leverage. We are the ones who depend on a free-flowing frontier for our well-being and prosperity, not Spain.

And don’t be fooled by the social media echo chambers. I am positive that reasonable, pragmatic Gibraltarians far outnumber the radicals who advocate for closing the frontier, but they are deafeningly quiet, afraid of being accused of treachery by the online fanatics.

On this issue, as on many others, I am convinced that our people are much better than our politicians.

Even the GSD, who in the past has tried to sell a more measured approach to foreign policy, whipped out the populist playbook when describing cross-frontier workers as “pawns” they would have used to secure a better post-Brexit deal - something Fabian Picardo agreed was wrong at the time.

The potential damage of this policy is vast.

Many Gibraltarians have close ties to Spain – they have families, shop at more affordable Spanish supermarkets, or simply relish the freedom of movement.

An unnecessary tightening of the border jeopardises these ties, businesses, public services, and the positive rapport developed during the Brexit talks.

The Chief Minister’s threats and bluster have absolutely no chance of succeeding in Madrid, so why exactly is he doing this?

In my opinion, everything points to the fact that this is more of an electoral manoeuvre than a well-thought-out strategy.

He is firing up his base for what he knows will be a highly disputed election, and nothing fires up Bossano’s red and white army more than a bit of nationalist sabre-rattling.

Unfortunately, we might all end up paying a very high price for Fabian Picardo’s last(?) attempt at re-election.

Marlene Hassan Nahon is an MP for Together Gibraltar, a party she founded and led until her recent announcement that she is stepping back from frontline politics at the end of this electoral term.

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