Gibraltar must be ‘ready to conclude a treaty, or walk away’, Garcia says
The content of the European Commission’s mandate “should not come as a surprise to anyone”, Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Joseph Garcia said, adding that throughout the Brexit process, Gibraltar has “faced a cliff edge”.
Dr Garcia said this view “reflects the opening position of those on the other side” and is not one shared by Gibraltar or the United Kingdom.
“Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and Spain all remain committed to an outcome based on the New Year’s Eve Agreement,” the Deputy Chief Minister said in his budget address to Parliament on Tuesday, just hours after the mandate was published.
“This is, nonetheless, a most unhelpful mandate.”
“It contains very little that we can agree with, and it may simply not be possible to arrive at a new Treaty on this basis.”
Gibraltar has had to plan for different outcomes, Dr Garcia said, and has prepared for the consequences of an agreement as well as the consequences of no agreement.
“I must confess that by its very nature, no deal work is very depressing,” Dr Garcia said.
“No part of it is pleasant so the Government will continue to work tirelessly for a new UK-EU Treaty about Gibraltar.”
But he said Gibraltar “cannot simply bury its head in the sand”, adding that Gibraltar must be “just as prepared” to conclude an agreement or “walk away without one” if need be.
He addressed the House on what would happen in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit for Gibraltar, and the impact this would have on the Government, individuals and businesses alike.
“In relation to the no deal work, I want to make one thing absolutely clear,” he said.
“It is impossible to mitigate for every consequence of a non-negotiated outcome.”
“And it is clear that the Government can only prepare in areas that we control.”
“In other areas, the new situation will simply reflect what it means to be outside the European Union.”
He urged businesses and citizens to “make their own preparations” in the event of a no-deal Brexit, adding that information on this is available on the Government website.
The Gibraltar Government has received funding for a number of a EU exit projects from the UK Government, namely the construction of a ferry access ramp at the port; the purchase of a waste shredder, compactor, baler and wrapper; and the temporary ferry service from Algeciras to allow time for local food importers to adapt to the new EU rules.
The Algeciras ferry has been “absolutely essential” and is working on a commercial basis.
Food importers bringing goods of animal origin from the UK to Gibraltar have to bring these items through a Border Control Post, with the closest one situated in Algeciras.
Although the process was “cumbersome” for most at first, Dr Garcia said many have no “better understood the new processes” and some are making use of the ferry.
Others are importing into the EU and then exporting to Gibraltar, while others are receiving goods by sea, and therefore “reducing our dependence on the border”.
Containers arriving at the port has increased considerable, with 300 containers already entering the port in comparison to a 400-container average per year.
Infrastructure is in place in the port to handle the extra demand, with provisions being made for extra refrigeration goods.
On driving licences, Gibraltar driving licences have been covered by the UK’s negotiated agreements for the mutual recognition of driving licences with the vast majority of EU member states.
Gibraltarian drivers would only require an International Driving Permit to drive in Cyprus, Croatia and Italy.
The movement of people across the border “remains the single most important issue”, Dr Garcia said.
“This would mean the full application of the Schengen Border Code,” he added.
“Such a move would have a considerable impact on the lives of ordinary citizens on both sides.”
“And on businesses too.”
“It would mean controls to enter Schengen and controls to exit Schengen.”
“Passport stamping on the way into Spain and on the way back from Spain.”
“More intensive checks on non-EU nationals.”
The Government as posted a budgetary deficit for this financial year, and therefore it is “more restricted” in the delivery of capital projects this year, Dr Garcia said.
“The huge cost of the pandemic means that this year we will do less than we intended,” he added.
The refurbishment and restoration of Parliament will not take plac during this financial year, but the Government will use this time to seek the necessary permits and consents through a planning application.
The plans will include the need to “future-proof” the building for more MPs, and to have a multi-purpose room on the ground floor with more than one entrance.
Priority will also be given to making Parliament more accessible for people with reduced mobility.
Dr Garcia said the Parasol Foundation has given its commitment to pay for the construction of an external lift, which will now be internal.
Clearing out works at the Northern Defences enters its sixth year, he said.
Although not officially open, it provided many people with a “central, much needed open space during these tough times”, Dr Garcia added.
Meanwhile work is also continuing to clear the grounds at The Mount, with work carried out “slowly and prudently”.