March 5, 2021

London-Brussels deal leaves hard Brexit for Gibraltar


“I congratulate the Prime Minister Boris johnson for this historic achievement. This is the biggest trade deal in history and it’s a huge relief given the potential difficulties a no-deal Brexit could have created for the UK and the European Union.

Again the rock of Gibraltar

Again the rock of Gibraltar

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That’s how cautious he expressed himself Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, this Christmas Eve and Easter Eve, after the trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which facilitates a lighter Brexit than was presumed if the year ended without white smoke when the New Year was going to become a long queue of vehicles on the borders of the North Sea: “A strong United Kingdom is in a better position to support Gibraltar”, reflects Picardo with similar resignation to the one who gets the stone in the Lottery draw. Christmas.

Because this consolation agreement, extremely complex in all its details, however it excludes Gibraltar. Negotiators rushed to establish alternatives for the border between Ireland and Ulster, but they have failed to incorporate the Rock into this package: “They have made Easter to the region again,” commented a Spanish trade unionist upon meeting the news.

“This agreement does not cover Gibraltar”

“This agreement does not cover Gibraltar,” confirms Picardo. For us, and for the people of the Campo de Gibraltar around us, the clock is ticking. We continue working hand in hand with the United Kingdom, to finalize the negotiation with Spain of an agreement for the proposed treaty between the EU and the United Kingdom in relation to Gibraltar ”.

In the same tone, on this side of the Gate, both Pedro Sánchez, President of the Spanish Government, and Arancha González Laya, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Spain and the UK continue to dialogue to reach an agreement on Gibraltar,” tweeted the current tenant of La Moncloa.

Of course, Sánchez congratulated the head of negotiations of the European Commission with the United Kingdom for the global agreement, Michel Barnier, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and their respective teams. Less laconic, Minister González Laya also wrote on Twitter: “Brexit, Good news! Negotiations between the EU and the UK have concluded. Thanks @vonderlayen @MichelBarnier. Now we will study it and make a pronouncement in the coming days. There is no agreement between Spain and Great Britain regarding Gibraltar. We continue talking ”.

Keith Azopardi, Opposition leader in Gibraltar, on board Gibraltar Social Democrats, also welcomed the agreement reached at the strictly British and Community level but asked an obvious question: “Where does this leave Gibraltar?”

“Nothing for Gibraltarians”

In statements to the newspaper The Gibraltar Chronicle, Azopardi assured that until an agreement is reached on Gibraltar, this news “does not mean anything” for Gibraltarians and is also insignificant for their quality of life.

“It would be a supreme irony for the UK to leave the EU with a deal and for the only British territory in continental Europe that overwhelmingly wished to remain in the EU were sacrificed on the altar of political expediency,” he said, alluding to the fact that that the Rock voted massively against Brexit in the referendum four years ago.

In his words, there are no serious criticisms of the local government, but they are clearly directed towards the British Government, which may give some measure of the gap that begins to open between London and Gibraltar, although all the public actors have denied it: “The Government of Gibraltar repeatedly promised that the United Kingdom was negotiating for the entire ‘British Family’, so how can the British Prime Minister say that the ‘Brexit has been carried out’ , announcing this agreement, without reaching an agreement that safeguards and benefits Gibraltar?

And he certainly does not consider it positive news that Gibraltar is left out of “the announcement of the broader agreement with the United Kingdom”.

“And we will suffer a double blow if the UK not only hands us an unwanted Brexit, but does not guarantee that we will also strike a secure deal at the same time as the UK,” he protested.

Countdown

The only possibility of this happening is that the agreement with Gibraltar materializes in a week, before the end of the year. And that does not seem likely, given the Brexit approval schedule that would not allow time for this to happen before the border is shielded on January 1. Azopardi is angry that the British government has put its security before the possibility of including the Yankees in the package.

“When an agreement is announced, if it is announced, that extends to Gibraltar, we will analyze the detail and assess whether it is a bad or a good deal for Gibraltar,” he said, while encouraging that “efforts continue to achieve this before the end of the transition period and to make sure that today we are not going to be the only part of the British territory that leaves the European Union without an agreement ”.

Sovereignty status

For its part, Marlene Hassan Nahon, The only deputy of Together Gibraltar, affirmed that the announced agreement represents good news for the European Union and the United Kingdom but was hopeful that it will be the agreement that precedes the one that finally protects Gibraltar and allows for prosperous neighborhood relations with the United Kingdom, respecting the “red lines” established by the Rock and which have to do fundamentally with its sovereign status.

“Unfortunately, at this time we still do not know what future awaits us if the ongoing negotiations between the United Kingdom / Gib / Spain fail”, it also includes The Gibraltar Chronicle.

His disappointment with the British government is evident: “Boris Johnson promised us that we would be included in any future deal.” “Once again they have left us to our fate,” he said, wishing the local government “the best of luck for the crucial hours and days that come.”

What can the fact that a specific solution for Gibraltar has not yet been worked out mean? That it will be necessary to find it: in principle, for some issues, such as the situation of workers, there will be a dead time until July that could be used to fine-tune other aspects, such as fiscal policy, whose memorandum has not finished be developed, or the border crossing, whose lack of fluidity can condition, above all, the accesses of pedestrians and cars, since the passage of goods to the Rock was already governed by similar parameters, and Gibraltar has never been in Schengen.

Border and workers

The fear of long queues before the requirement and verification of passports and despite the establishment of a corridor for cross-border workers – not only Spanish but from other European countries – will not exclude daily problems when crossing the reinforced external border of the European Union. The memorandum on Citizen Rights, which is the only one of the four that was being negotiated that has come to fruition, guarantees reciprocity in labor rights for workers who currently hold jobs on one side of the Gate and the other. However, Campo-Gibraltarians who find new jobs in Gibraltar and Gibraltarians who go to work in Spain in the future, will presumably see these rights diminished They do not, of course, cover those who find themselves without any contract and working within the underground economy, which in that case has nothing to do with trafficking in illicit drugs but with a good part of domestic employment and dependency.

Cross-border workers covered by the Withdrawal Agreement that entered into force in February this year will be able, beyond December 31, 2020, to continue working in Gibraltar and will be able to benefit from the same community rights that they currently enjoy.

“In practice,” states the Government of Gibraltar, “this means that skilled cross-border workers will continue to have the same EU-based labor rights that they currently enjoy. This includes the right to non-discrimination, the right to start an activity in Gibraltar and the right to social and tax benefits. Therefore, for example, skilled cross-border workers will maintain the same conditions that have existed until now with regard to unemployment benefits ”.

On December 1, 2020, the Government launched an online platform for these people to verify their status: frontierworkers.egov.gi. However, many of these workers are still missing from registering and time is also running against them.

“I am optimistic that we will be able to finalize that agreement,” Fabian Picardo still maintains, although both he and the Campo-Gibraltarian public officials were confident that this border would be considered in this final agreement and it has not been.

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