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Govt and GSD clash over frontier workers’ rights

The Gibraltar Government and GSD Opposition last night clashed over the substance of the Withdrawal Agreement over the rights afforded to frontier workers.

This comes after the GSD took aim at comments made by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on GBC and claimed that the Government had given away greater rights to frontier workers.

Mr Picardo had told GBC that the Government would never accept “a two-tier process at the frontier that [give] Spanish workers or European workers generally easier access to Gibraltar than Gibraltarians have to Spain”.

This, the GSD said, was “simply untrue”, adding that the Government had agreed just that in the Withdrawal Agreement.

“This and the MOU on Citizens Rights recognise that frontier workers will have rights beyond the transitional period,” the party said in a statement, adding that there were no enduring rights of freedom of movement beyond the end of the transitional period for Gibraltarians who live and work here to go across to Spain.

In hitting back however, the Government insisted that the Opposition had not understood the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The Leader of the Opposition has either still not understood the content of the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union or is mischievously twisting the facts in order to mislead and confuse public opinion,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

It added that the GSD’s comments on frontier workers “bears little resemblance to reality”.

The Government said: “The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of UK and Gibraltarian residents, workers and frontier workers in the European Union and in return protects the rights of European Union nationals, including residents, workers and frontier workers in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.”

“The rights are reciprocal and they are Europe-wide, affecting many millions of people. This means that EU frontier workers everywhere are entitled to the same rights as UK and Gibraltarian frontier workers everywhere.”

It added that these rights are not derived from the Memorandum of Understanding but the Withdrawal Agreement itself, which is an international treaty.

“The Opposition should note that when the transitional period comes to an end, the principle of freedom of movement, as we know it, will come to an end for everyone,” No.6 said.

“The reason for this is because the border between Gibraltar and Spain would pass in practice from being an internal border of the European Union to becoming an external border.”

“This would mean that all persons crossing may be subject to different procedures and controls when entering and exiting than they do today. There are presently controls on persons exercised by Spain and separate controls on persons exercised by Gibraltar.”

The Government reiterated that it aims for a common travel area between Gibraltar and the European Union.

“The Opposition should know by now that this is a matter for the negotiations on the future which have not even started and which are due to commence next month.”

“It is also worth pointing out that when the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act was taken to the Gibraltar Parliament, which included the reciprocal rights in question, it was approved unanimously with the Opposition itself voting in favour.”

But the Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, said that the fact that the lists will contain a tiny number of Gibraltarians who may work in Spain was “hardly a cause for celebration” for the vast remainder of the population.

“It is obvious that enduring rights for frontier workers is not something that will benefit the vast majority of the population who reside and work here and want to have equal rights of freedom of movement,” he said.

“These however have not been secured by Mr Picardo beyond 31 December 2020 unlike the case of frontier workers.”

“Is this Mr Picardo’s interpretation of safely and securely negotiating our future post Brexit?”

He added: “The Government needs to stop trying to paint things in a way that they are not. Rather than talking up the deficient MOUs that they negotiated, they need to focus on damage limitation and obtaining beneficial agreements as to the future.”

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