Gibraltar's post-Brexit future
In a series of themed questions, the Chronicle asked the GSLP/Liberals, the GSD and the Independent Social Democrat candidate for their thoughts on some of the most pressing issues facing Gibraltar. I this last installment they explore the challenges of Brexit.
Brexit has dominated the political landscape since 2016 and Gibraltar has yet to secure an enduring agreement for its post-Brexit relations with the EU.
How have Gibraltar’s relations with Spain changed in that period and how confident are you that a safe and beneficial agreement can be reached? Every agreement involves give and take: in real terms, what does that mean for Gibraltar in this context? What is your ideal vision of a post-Brexit future for Gibraltar? And what are the implications for Gibraltar of a ‘no deal’ scenario?
GSD can deliver safe and beneficial treaty
By Keith Azopardi, Leader of the GSD
Seven years on from the Brexit Referendum Gibraltar has still not obtained a safe and beneficial permanent agreement with the EU. Indeed, the United Kingdom obtained its own permanent arrangements nearly three years ago. A process that we were told in December 2020 would require an additional six months to culminate stumbles on almost 34 months on.
This failure to deliver a safe and beneficial agreement leaves Gibraltar in a place of uncertainty having to necessarily plan a twin-tracked approach and also prepare for a no deal scenario.
It is not even certain what the GSLP/Libs are aiming to achieve. Is it that they are seeking a permanent agreement or is it that they feel that it is not possible to agree a permanent agreement? In July 2023 Sir Joe Bossano told Parliament that he does not think a safe and beneficial agreement is possible beyond a 4-year period. Voters need to know what the GSLP/Libs are offering them and this is now unclear after Sir Joe Bossano’s statement. Our policy is to seek to conclude a safe and beneficial permanent agreement with the EU.
While the GSLP/Libs may point to work over the last few years and positive mood music coming from Spain it is clear that on the ground relations with Spain have changed for the worse. Blue ID card holders face a situation that their passports are stamped even though they are permanent residents of Gibraltar and the reciprocal healthcare arrangements that benefitted people here were ended. However much those are presented as inevitable features of Brexit they are also the result of acts by Spain and both came when there was an expectation or worse still a promise of status quo pending the outcome of negotiations.
This together with the uncertainty surrounding discussions and the flare-ups affecting mobility from time to time have created a sense of frustration and expectation. People are eager for finality – preferably a positive finality to those discussions.
For our part and if we are elected to Government on 13 October we would seek to conclude a safe and beneficial agreement. We consider we have the competent team to be able to conclude and deliver a safe and beneficial agreement. The GSLP/Libs have changed half their team. Our team has experience, talent, competence, freshness and energy. We will keep Gibraltar safe as I did when I helped defeat Joint Sovereignty in 2002. Anything said by the GSLP/Libs suggestive that we are soft on sovereignty is just an outrageous slur on the GSD and me. Mr Picardo is not indispensable in that process. That is a reality. We will extend an invite for him to assist us in the process of concluding a safe and beneficial agreement. It is up to him whether he wishes to reject that invite just because he is defeated at the polls or for a false pretext.
I do not underestimate the complexity of trying to agree a safe and beneficial agreement but I believe we can do so. We will inherit the civil servants working on details and as the British Foreign Secretary indicated this week we would have the support of the British Government to conclude the Agreement. For us a safe and beneficial Agreement means precisely that. It would need to be safe on the fundamentals so that our rights are not compromised and there are no concessions of sovereignty, jurisdiction or control. It would be beneficial if it was beneficial economically and socially for Gibraltar having regard to our overall sustainability.
We are conscious, however, of the fact that we must also ensure we prepare for a no deal scenario or for the termination of an EU Agreement if it is drawn up in terms that would be unacceptable beyond a specific period. As such we will continue with the contingency planning for a possible no-deal and beyond that build further resilience and capability to run a self-sufficient economy should it come to that. A no-deal scenario would not be a cataclysm in the sense that Gibraltar would learn to adapt and survive. However, it would not be our preferred scenario. What would be preferable is to conclude a safe and beneficial agreement because Gibraltar would fare better with permanent and secure arrangements with the EU.
A safe pair of experienced hands
By Dr Joseph Garcia, Leader of the Liberal Party
The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU set the stage for a complex and lengthy period of negotiations. The GSLP Liberals have already demonstrated we are the only safe pair of hands with the experience necessary to protect Gibraltar's safety and security, both now and into the future.
We have Kept Gibraltar Safe throughout this period.
We ensured that we did not have a cliff edge Brexit and that, in so far as possible, fluidity across the border continued.
Next Thursday’s General Election must be about selecting the individuals who you want to continue to spearhead the ongoing future relationship treaty negotiations with the United Kingdom, Spain and the European Union. This issue will continue to dominate our lives in the weeks and months after the General Election.
It has been a multifaceted process, encompassing highly complex legal, technical, and political intricacies, all of which Fabian Picardo and I are intimately familiar with, having immersed ourselves in the detail of this from the very beginning. Fabian and I are the most qualified candidates with the experience and the connections necessary to take these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
It does not make sense to change the Government now, when we are on the brink of a historic agreement with the EU. This would put at risk our ability to deliver the treaty.
Indeed, we have already negotiated a package of measures with the United Kingdom which included access for Gibraltar companies into the UK market and affordable tuition fees for Gibraltar students at UK universities.
Those measures protected Gibraltar's vital trading relationship with the UK and saved millions of taxpayer’s money.
We also successfully negotiated our inclusion in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement. The package of measures which cushioned our EU exit saw the conclusion of a Tax Treaty and four Memoranda of Understanding with Spain. This saved Gibraltar from a cliff edge Brexit, for the first time, and included us in a transition period which, ran parallel to, and ended at the same time as that for the UK itself.
Additionally, the Political Framework which we agreed on New Year's Eve 2020 has laid the foundation for an ambitious Treaty. This framework, yet again, saved Gibraltar from a hard Brexit.
The Treaty which we are currently negotiating aims to remove historical border delays thereby improving the quality of life of us all.
A GSLP Liberal Government is absolutely committed to working towards delivering an area of shared prosperity, which is contingent on the removal of border controls between Gibraltar and the EU and would, in turn, increase Gibraltar's prosperity, with a positive economic effect on the surrounding region.
The GSD have been critical of every step we have taken on Brexit. They opposed our inclusion in the Withdrawal Treaty, criticised the Tax Treaty with Spain, and they criticised the four MOU’s we entered into as part of the architecture of the Withdrawal Agreement. However, their most glaring contradiction must lie in their criticism of the New Year’s Eve Agreement, which is the very foundation upon which a new EU Treaty is being negotiated on and which they now claim they would be able to deliver.
Preparing for a No Negotiated Outcome (NNO) in the treaty negotiations can only go so far, as some factors are beyond Gibraltar's control and rely on the goodwill of third parties like Spain and the EU. A GSLP Liberal Government will, nonetheless, continue to mitigate the potential impact of an NNO scenario while maintaining an unwavering commitment to securing a safe, secure, and beneficial future relationship agreement with the EU.
Therefore, Gibraltar's future safety and security hinges on the GSLP Liberals' proven leadership, experience and dedication to continue to navigate the complex treaty negotiations. As Gibraltar defines its future, we are the only experienced safe pair of hands capable of safeguarding our interests.
Let us finish what we started.
We will guarantee bringing you back a Treaty that is beneficial to Gibraltar and does not cross any red lines on sovereignty, otherwise we will simply not agree to it.
So, next Thursday, vote the ten GSLP/Liberal candidates.
Let us Keep Gibraltar Safe and Get the Job Done!
Independent Social Democrat
With or without treaty, Gibraltar must adapt
By Robert Vasquez
Gibraltar’s relations with Spain remain unchanged to date. It is Spain that has softened its outlook on Gibraltar. It is that which is making probable achieving an enduring post-Brexit treaty between the UK and the EU over Gibraltar [Gibexit]. It is a softening by Spain that is clearly seen by the highly benevolent and beneficial interim measures being applied by Spain towards Gibraltar whilst Gibexit talks continue.
What Gibraltar did in the Brexit referendum is send a very clear message that we were happy with participating in the EU and that we wished to continue that involvement. It is that clarity of view that has opened eyes, especially in Spain, and allowed the ongoing Gibexit talks to continue with a benevolent regime at the border.
One must hope that those freshly opened eyes in Spain will be encouraged, whoever forms government there in the coming weeks. The uncertainty at that level leads to nervousness that a Gibexit ‘deal’ may be scuppered due to the give and take that will be necessary for a government to be formed in Madrid. We must hope that the positive continuity of Gibexit discussions will not be derailed.
We are told that most of what needs to be included in a treaty is agreed. There remain important disagreements, but that is not unusual in a negotiation of this type. The ability to reach the end of the road depends to some degree on Spain keeping that open mind, always remembering that all sides have reserved fully their respective position on sovereignty and claims on sovereignty.
Only the Chief Minister and a few around him know where the talks lie. Accordingly, it is impossible looking in from outside to express confidence, or lack of it, that a safe and beneficial agreement can be reached. We outsiders can only express desire and hope. I want a good ‘deal’ within the parameters acceptable to Gibraltar, which I list below, as I seem them.
Agreement involves give and take. What Gibraltar must give is defined, in my mind, by that which every EU member nation has compromised by its own involvement in the EU, without giving up their individual core national sovereignty. It is that position that we must all have at the forefront of our minds if, and when, the details of any Gibexit treaty are made public.
Any Gibexit treaty must protect what makes Gibraltar unique. In part Gibraltar’s economic success in a free-flowing border scenario is encouraged by its uniqueness, which attracts huge numbers of visitors. Its uniqueness is achieved by many factors none of which must be lost by the effect of any Gibexit treaty.
The elements of Gibraltar’s uniqueness include, sovereignty, British nationality and values, English language (without forgetting safeguarding Llanito), ability to withdraw from any Gibexit ‘deal’, connections with the British Parliament and Government, a British Governor, our own reformed Parliament with greater devolution, public institutions, laws, governmental (as improved), legal and court system, police, education system and professional accreditation.
All of those are based on a British model, and much more that makes Gibraltar distinctive and separate, whilst not undermining aspirations for greater self-determination.
The implications for Gibraltar of a ‘no deal’ scenario are very difficult to determine from the outside. Deputy Chief Minister, Joseph Garcia, has done sterling work to meet that eventuality. He has described the task he is engaged in as ‘mammoth’. He has said that the UK leaving the EU and the Covid-19 pandemic had the making of a “perfect storm, the consequences of which will be felt for years to come.
He has also made clear that not every downside can be determined or resolved, so there will be some suffering to be experienced. It is a factor that is given emphasis by the GSLP-Liberal Government continuously repeating that it remains committed to securing a Gibexit agreement.
There is no doubting that Gibexit in either guise, with or without a ‘deal’ will change the economy. Adaptation will be essential. Gibraltar is used to adapting. It will do so again to continue its unique existence.