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Opinion & Analysis

Where is Gibraltar heading to after Brexit?

Eyleen Gomez

By Robert Vasquez
Do the “hawks” perched in the GSLP-Liberal Government and party members still claim that there is nothing to fear about Brexit? If an agreement over Gibraltar is reached, there could be inroads made that will lead to an increased separation from the UK, and greater connection with the EU, and so with Spain. This distancing is beginning to be a visible consequence of Brexit that can be deduced from the little that is public about discussions over Gibraltar.

The recent meeting between Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo emphasises this conundrum that faces Gibraltar now. Additionally, we hear In the Spanish Parliament of a ‘charm offensive’ voiced by socialist political parties, which is an additional danger.

The core Spanish position of all political parties in Parliament and the State position of Spain on Gibraltar does and has not changed: Spain claims the sovereignty of Gibraltar and does not and will not renounce that claim.

What the socialist Government of Spain is changing is the strategy that they consider will make achieving that objective more probable. A strategy that Spain has developed by reference to geographical location, past failures and external factors engaging wider international affairs that impact directly on Gibraltar, mainly the effect of Brexit.

Spain has already made small inroads into Gibraltar’s British sovereignty.

The UK has signed a Tax Treaty with Spain that governs tax issues concerning Gibraltar. That treaty gives Spain large elements of tax sovereignty over its nationals, companies and other entities residing or operating within Gibraltar.

The Gibraltar Protocol to the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement has several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) attached. These cover citizens’ rights, the environment, police and customs and tobacco and other products.

The MoUs give Spanish input on each of these subjects, thus giving Spain a say on what happens in our (British) sovereign territory. The MoUs are said to expire on the 31st December 2020, but will this be so in practice?
Well, the issue of citizens’ rights is amply covered in the Withdrawal Agreement and are effective beyond that date. The changes to the Gibraltar law governing tobacco prices are not said to expire on that date.

Further, in the real world, can matters covered in the Gibraltar Protocol and the MoUs actually come to an end on that date? Well, yes, it is possible, but what will be the effect of ending these, when they have been agreed as being acceptable to Gibraltar, time does not change that? International relations rarely work on the basis of stepping back, without such a change in position having repercussions.

González Laya has said that her meeting with Picardo did not touch on issues concerning sovereignty, and that this is an issue exclusively between Spain and the UK. Further she emphasises that her meeting with Picardo only touched on the MoUs.

The reunion with Picardo was held in the context of a visit to the area to meet with and understand from Campo Mayors and some other local dignitaries what the issues faced by them at Brexit engaging Gibraltar might be. The question that we in Gibraltar should ask is, was our Chief Minister seen and treated by González Laya in the same category as the others she met with?

The Partido Popular (PP) criticises that meeting by elevating it to a State occasion. It is, undoubtedly, a view which many will consider has argument and substance. Further it is an opinion, which, if correct, strengthens Gibraltar and the Chief Minister. The danger to Gibraltar, however, is highlighted by the arguments of Spain’s socialist parties.

Briefly these views are, that Spain’s claim to sovereignty is not renounced or undermined in any way, rather by increasing and emphasising Gibraltar’s dependence on Spain, showing friendship and improving the economic wellbeing of the Campo attitudes and opinions will change in Gibraltar over time. In that context, González Laya’s meeting with Picardo, in the eyes of the current Spanish Government was a resoundingly positive step favourable to Spain’s sovereignty claim.

The PP’s opinion is undermined and the views of the socialist parties are reinforced by reports in “El Pais” (29th July 2020) that Gibraltar is seeking to keep links with the EU after the Brexit transition period ends on the 31st December 2020. The harsh reality is that a post-Brexit solution is needed, by both Gibraltar and Spain, that will safeguard cross-frontier free movement of persons and goods beyond that date; much of Gibraltar’s economy and public finances are dependent on that.

The article suggests that the UK and Spain with Gibraltar are looking at various options. All of them, in some small way, separate us from the UK and bring us closer to and more dependent on the EU and so Spain; Spain being the EU interlocutor on matters involving Gibraltar.

The options, which are intended to retain ties between Gibraltar and the EU (and so keep us close to Spain), that seemingly are being looked at are, that Gibraltar joins either the EU customs union or the Schengen passport-free area.

This is not unusual for non-EU members. Monaco, for example, is a part of the customs union, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland are part of the single market and Schengen and Switzerland is part of Schengen. What is a mystery is, whether or what Spain may demand in return?

It is further reported that Spain made an offer on aspects of bilateral relations over Gibraltar, at a meeting in Malaga in June. The terms of this offer remain secret, beyond Spain’s desire to create a zone of ‘shared prosperity’ in part reflecting its desire to protect cross-frontier workers and to achieve an attractive neighbouring territory.

All this is in the public domain for those who care to look. What is strange is the ominous silence from our Government, beyond mirroring Spain’s call for ‘shared prosperity’, by expressing its own desire to achieve prosperity for the area. Otherwise, not one peep of denial, just continuous reaffirmations of Gibraltar remaining British.

Wake up all political parties, especially the currently responsible GSLP-Liberal Government! See that Spain has put its sovereignty claim to one side without renouncing it. See that Spain has changed its strategy to achieve that sovereignty. What is the GSLP-Liberal Government’s plan to counter that danger without destroying Gibraltar’s economy, or that of any party that might replace it in Government?

No one knows because they don’t say, or is it because the Government does not have one, beyond Picardo having high-profile meetings with Spain’s Foreign Minister to attract media attention? These meetings are dangerous without a clear strategy. Well some advice to our Government: keep your electorate informed, because if you don’t you may face a backlash when any arrangements become public.

Robert Vasquez is a barrister. He stood as an independent candidate at the last general election.