“Handled sensibly, the issues surrounding Gibraltar and Brexit can be solved to the satisfaction of all concerned”by Chris Grocott / April 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
When the UK’s preliminary position on Brexit negotiations was communicated to the European Union on 29th March, no mention was made of Gibraltar. This was considered by many in Gibraltar and the UK to be an error; not to mention to the Rock was, it was feared, an invitation to Spain to demonstrate intransigence over Gibraltar’s future status during the negotiations.
The fears of Gibraltarians were realised when the EU issued its draft guidelines for the Brexit negotiations. Unlike the UK, it was unequivocal: “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.” Gibraltar’s economic future—its access to the free market and to the European labour market, most importantly migrant workers who commute daily across the frontier from Spain to Gibraltar—was seemingly handed to a hostile neighbour.
In 1973, as a UK overseas territory that is nevertheless located in Europe, Gibraltar joined the then European Economic Community along with the UK. The Rock’s economy has changed dramatically since then, and has done so within the context of EU membership and within the context of an open frontier with Spain, the latter being insisted upon before Spain could join the EU in 1986. As Gibraltar prepares for Brexit, concerns about its economic future are necessarily to the fore.
Put another way, the EU’s position that any agreement over Gibraltar would have to be come to through bilateral negotiations has opened the door to Spain pressing its claim to sovereignty by threatening to exclude Gibraltar from two vital components which make up its economy. Access to the common market is important, but a free and flowing frontier with Spain, which allows for between 9,000 to 12,000 workers to enter Gibraltar daily, is vital. It is not that sovereignty itself is part of the negotiations, but rather that Spain might effect an economic blockade which would necessitate joint sovereignty with Spain in order to keep the economy afloat.
Gibraltarians will remember the experience of the frontier being closed in the days of General Franco, from 1969-1985. Travel to Spain had to take place by ferry via North African ports, and family ties which stretch across the frontier were severed. It was not uncommon for Gibraltarian…