Life post-Brexit will be ‘very different and very difficult’ without treaty, Garcia says
Life in Gibraltar “would cease to exist as we know it” if negotiators fail to reach a UK/EU treaty on the Rock’s future relations with the bloc, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said this week, even while expressing optimism a deal would be reached.
Dr Garcia issued the stark warning during an interview with GBC’s Viewpoint on Thursday night, during which he reflected on the past six years since the Brexit referendum in 2016.
“Everybody wants a treaty and we are satisfied that there is good faith on all sides,” Dr Garcia said.
“Because if there isn't one, there will be very serious consequences for everybody on both sides of the border.”
“Life as we know and as we have known it would simply cease to exist.”
“The Spanish mitigation measures would drop, we would all be subject to the Schengen border code in full, which is the stamping of passports, the questioning by border guards, and everything else that would come with it in the future.”
“It would be a very different world from the world we have been used to up to now.”
Dr Garcia said that meetings continued non-stop on technical work for a complex treaty that seeks to create a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone while respecting each sides red lines.
The “centrepiece” of the deal is a framework that allows for the mobility not just of persons but of goods, “because that impacts the mobility of persons”.
“We're close, but we're not there yet,” he said.
“We are close, there are a number of important areas left, and just because there are a few of them doesn't mean they are not important, they are.”
“We are working practically on a daily basis to try and resolve those issues.”
Dr Garcia said Gibraltar and the UK had worked closely since 2016 and the relationship between the two governments had never been better, despite the challenges created by the Brexit referendum vote.
He said despite the Brexit aims of the UK administration, ministers and officials in Britain had a solid grasp of the specific problems Gibraltar faced.
And after nine formal rounds since negotiations began in October last year, he said the EU understood those issues too.
“Even though we've been dealing with a Brexiteer government [in the UK] - people who passionately believe in what they're doing, we don't agree with them but that is nonetheless what they believe - they have got it and they have understood the special requirements of Gibraltar,” he said.
“We're looking at a solution that is tailormade and which is unique to the geographical and political circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
“That has been understood by the European Union side as well.”
“Bringing over the European Union negotiators in January was a master stoke, because that unblocked a number of issues.”
“Because they simply couldn't understand the special intricacies of Gibraltar without actually setting foot in Gibraltar.”
“And I think they have understood it too and they've got it.”
“It's now a question of marrying the different legal and technical frameworks that exist to produce the end result that we all want, which is a safe, secure and beneficial treaty for Gibraltar.”
He made clear though that Gibraltar would not sign up to a deal that was not safe.
“We're not going to do a deal at any price,” he said.
Dr Garcia played down the risk of tensions between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol spilling over into the Gibraltar negotiations, though he acknowledged this had been a genuine fear at one point.
But ministers and officials in the UK and the EU had made clear publicly that the Gibraltar negotiation is “isolated and insulated” from whatever happens in Northern Ireland, he said, adding that analysis had shown the two situations were "completely different".
Dr Garcia, who is also the Minister for Brexit in the Gibraltar Government, said that in parallel to the negotiation, Gibraltar had worked hard to prepare for a non-negotiated outcome, drawing in part on past experience of functioning as an island economy during the closed border years.
He said the UK had supported Gibraltar fully in this aim, including providing financial support for important infrastructure for ferries and waste management.
Key services in Gibraltar including the GHA had put in plans to “hoard and stockpile” essential items, something that had proved useful during the Covid-19 pandemic when goods stored for Brexit were used in Gibraltar’s response to the virus.
Everything possible was being done to ensure Gibraltar is “as prepared as we can be”
“But the message has to be that life outside the European Union without a treaty will be very different and very difficult to what we are used to today,” he added.
“Potentially we're talking about a difficult border with passport stamping for everyone, with queues on the way in, queues on the way out, and people would need to adapt to that new reality.”
“There are areas where we simply cannot mitigate.”