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Govt and GSD at odds over agreement on post-Brexit rights of cross-border workers

Eyleen Gomez

The Gibraltar Government and the GSD were at odds on Wednesday over recent announcements on the rights of cross-border workers after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

For the GSD, the announcements here and in Madrid indicated that cross-border workers would have greater freedom of frontier movement after December 31 than residents of Gibraltar, adding an opportunity had been missed to secure a wider agreement on mobility when the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated.

But the Gibraltar Government said the GSD was misrepresenting the situation and that the announcement only confirmed commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement protecting the acquired rights of EU citizens, including Gibraltarians.

“This is part of giving certainty to the people who were already exercising EU rights at the time of withdrawal,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“It has nothing to do with the future.”

The exchange arose after the Gibraltar Government issued a technical notice clarifying the administrative arrangements agreed with the UK and Spain to give effect to the commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Those arrangements were later acknowledged in a statement issued by Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said they had been agreed by “authorities in Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.”

The arrangements relate rights, including employment rights, enjoyed by cross-border workers employed here or in the EU.

The GSD argued that the announcement earlier this week signalled a “special regime” to facilitate cross-border movement for frontier workers, “the majority of which are Spanish”.

“Frontier workers have been given permanent rights of freedom of movement across the frontier whether or not there is an agreement on a new relationship with the EU by 31 December 2020,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition.

“The effect of this is that the Government is left negotiating mobility rights now for the remainder of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

“By allowing the de-linking of mobility rights for frontier workers from those of the rest of the population it has worsened the ability to negotiate arrangements on mobility now.”

“The Spanish Government in announcing the measure has described it as having dealt with one of the main issues of concern in the Campo de Gibraltar and has observed that Spain signed the MOU on citizens’ rights [frontier workers] ‘with a view to reinforce this aspect’.”

“There is no bigger confirmation of the consequence to the negotiating position that Gibraltar has found itself in since 2018 than that.”

In response, the Gibraltar Government said Mr Azopardi’s analysis was flawed.

It said the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement provided for the recognition of the enduring rights of British citizens, including Gibraltarians, in the European Union and of European Union nationals in the United Kingdom and in Gibraltar.

This was not specific to Gibraltar, it added, but applied across the board between the UK and the EU everywhere and the rights are reciprocal.

The enduring right of residence, and to work for those already living or working in the UK, including Gibraltar and including all frontier workers everywhere, was also applicable to Swiss and EEA nationals, which includes people from Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

It also applied the other way round to Gibraltarians and British Citizens living or working in all those countries.

These protections of an individuals’ rights were negotiated for the whole of the UK and Gibraltar upon departure from the EU and formed part of the “wholesale architecture” agreed at the time for exiting the bloc.

No.6 Convent Place said those arrangements should not be confused with the future relationship between the UK, Gibraltar and the EU, “which is something different and which includes a cross-border mobility proposal for everyone which is still under discussion.”

In its technical notice, the Gibraltar Government said: “As in the UK, during a period of grace from 1 January 2021 to 1 July 2021, [the Government of Gibraltar] will not impose any new entry conditions for EU, EEA or Swiss nationals (including frontier workers) to be able to enter Gibraltar.”

“[The Government of Gibraltar] will keep this position under review especially in light of the ongoing negotiations to agree a new border fluidity regime with the EU.”

The Chief Minister said he was pleased that the arrangements to implement the reciprocal commitments on citizens’ rights in the Withdrawal Agreement had now been finalised.

And he was critical too of the GSD’s position on the issue.

“Seeing as Mr Azopardi is being fully and continuously briefed on these matters, I can only speculate about why he would choose to try to misrepresent this matter to stir people’s views at a time when we are all working closely to achieve the best deal possible for the future,” Mr Picardo said.

“If Mr Azopardi genuinely has any confusion about these reports he could have reached - and can still reach - out to us as he has been doing at the briefings instead of try to grab a misleading headline.”

“I am happy to speak to him about these issues if he wishes.”

“These matters related to the whole Withdrawal Agreement and not the bits that relate to Gibraltar geographically - but generally to all workers exercising pre-existing EU rights.”

“Now is not the time for political games or fake politics. We are all - and we all need to be - on the same side, Gibraltar's.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article, including the headline, has been updated to better set out each side's position on this issue.