Expert View

Brexiters heading for the Rock(s) on Gibraltar

by David Hannay | 13.02.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Nothing much has been heard about Gibraltar and Brexit since the initial shock last spring when it emerged the other 27 EU countries had explicitly included in their Brexit negotiating guidelines a provision that any post-Brexit arrangements for the Rock would need to be agreed between Britain and Spain. That is understandable since the first phase of the negotiations, which ended in broad agreement just before Christmas, contained no elements which involved Gibraltar.

That state of grace is about to end. Both the standstill transitional period about to be negotiated and the end-state UK/EU partnership to be negotiated thereafter will need to address the issue of Gibraltar head on, or else the territory will be left in a far worse situation than it is in now.

The key point to remember is that Gibraltar’s current status within the EU is solely due to the fact that it is a European territory of a member state, the UK. Once that member state ceases to be such, the whole underpinning of Gibraltar’s status disappears into thin air – and the prime minister is determined that this should happen in less than fifteen months.

Gone will be the highly beneficial legal status which has Gibraltar within the single market but outside the customs union. This exempts it from the need to introduce a VAT. It also makes the border between Gibraltar and Spain an internal EU one, subject to Commission oversight and to the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Instead Gibraltar will become a third country (or territory) and its border with Spain will become an external border of the EU, with Spain responsible for controlling the movement of people in both directions across that border. Thus the whole basis of Gibraltar’s current prosperity will be at risk. No wonder more than 90% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.

Did the Brexiters show any awareness of the predicament into which their referendum success would thrust Gibraltar? Absolutely not. Did they say a word about it at the time or since? None. If they did know about it, they acted with the greatest cynicism and fecklessness as they threw Gibraltar under the wheels of that infamous battle bus. Now all they do is beat the drums of hostility towards Spain, which is hardly likely to bring about a good outcome for the Rock.

What can and should the government do about all this? So far, as in other parts of the Brexit negotiations, they have done nothing except draw red lines – on the need for the Gibraltarians to be directly involved in any negotiations, and on the unacceptability of any discussion of the sovereignty dispute with Spain. Since ministers seem to have no idea of what end-state they want for the UK itself, it is difficult, if not impossible, to address the main issues relating to Gibraltar after we leave. This cannot continue much longer, the risk of a car crash in March 2019, one smaller in size but not dissimilar in nature to that in Ireland. And in the case of Gibraltar, the standstill transitional period is not so easily available to buy time.

Is the government talking quietly to the Spanish government about how to manage the process? Not much sign of that. Rather oddly, Gibraltar’s Brexit-related issues are being handled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and not by the Department for Exiting the European Union. Does the idea of Boris Johnson being in charge instil confidence in the outcome? Not a lot.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    5 Responses to “Brexiters heading for the Rock(s) on Gibraltar”

    • The attitude of the Brexiteers towards Gibraltar epitomises the old Imperialist/Elitist ideal:
      Loyalty required of the periphery (or riff-raff) to the Centre: Total
      Obligations of the Centre to anyone else: Nil

    • There are a few show-stoppers appearing, the Irish border and Gibralter to name just two. The stop-gap solutions appear to be to kick these cans down the road, with the expectation that the Brexit juggernaut will have too much momentum to be stopped by small issues such as these.
      We must not allow this to happen. We need to hold the government to account for all of the stages in negotiation, in sufficient detail for us to decide if the solution is acceptable. Already the government is boasting about the success of the negotiations so far, when in fact all that has happened is that several cans are still in mid-air. With David Davis amazing lack of precision and attention to detail, can we really let this continue unchallenged? With luck, some of these cans will be landing very soon.

    • Sadly, it is not surprising that this government has neglected this issue in this way. However it is highly irresponsible and deeply worrying for Gibraltarians and other UK citizens who have chosen to reside there. Having lived there myself for 3 years, as a member of the RAF, while the border was still closed, I have some idea of the problems to be faced post Brexit.
      It will be a sad insult to our Gibraltar if we allow this neglect to continue on top of the injury caused by the irresponsible Brexit vote.
      The issue badly needs to be publicly debated and proper consideration given to the effects of Brexit upon our loyal citizens and our responsibility for them.

    • As a business owning tax payer in Gibraltar my interpretation of current events is that l unfortunately would only trust the British Government to use Gibraltar as an emotional ‘Falklands War’ type rally against the EU than an opportunity for cooperation and a smooth border solutions. This will effectively destroy the reasonable current (relatively speaking) relationship with the Campo de Gibraltar, Andalusia and Spain, as a whole not least thanks to the efforts of politicians in Gibraltrar and locally In Spain. I don’t believe Gibraltar people, in general, won’t rally against Boris or the Foriegn Office to fight against Brexit ( although some of the very strong Remainers will); and it will always stand head and shoulders with the incumbent British Government but, worryingly, Gibraltar could be used as a Pawn or, maybe, a Bishop and possibly even be expendible in Brexit EU negotionas after all, Spain, as one of the 27, can veto any deal. The worst case will be a return to a garrisoned strategic military establishment as far as Britian relationship with Gibraltar becomes but this will leave the strategic economy in Gibraltar (Gaming, Insurance, Investment Banking, Company Management, Crypto-Currencies) even more isolated from Spain and the EU but much closer to Britain economicably and politically. I conclude that Gibraltar military base will return to much greater importance but, if there’s a change in Government in the UK, then Gibraltar must also be ready for a radically shift towards much greater self-determination and possibly even leaving the British Overseas Territory status to be the masters of their own destiny.

    • Yet another mess or should I say car crash waiting to happen . Nothing has been discussed publicly on this issue and the boasts about the success of the Phase1 ” agreement ” is frankly laughable. Not ONE item on that agenda has been signed off ; Northern Ireland – kicked into the long grass, Eu and Uk citizens living here and abroad- attempts to already alter citozen’s rights during the extended membership period and finally , The Settlement – not settled because we now realise our ballsy approach to leaving every joint venture was nonsense and will need to be revisited .
      Basically Phase 1 was a mess with little resolved and attempts already by the UK Govt . to alter initial agreements ….this is an utterly stupid ideological farce !

      Phase 2 – will be 10x more difficult with far more wriggle room for the daft Brexiters to play with . The mind boggles as to why this hasn’t been stopped yet ?