Apr 25 - Deputy Chief Minister's Full Address At "Brexit And Citizen's Rights - The Case Of Gibraltar" Seminar

 Brussels-based think tank, the European Citizen’s Action Service held a seminar a the University of Gibraltar this morning exploring “Brexit and Citizen’s Rights – The Case of Gibraltar”.

It was full attendance Gibraltarians from all professional and personal backgrounds attended the seminar which was opened by the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo who delivered the keynote address this morning.

Assya Kavrakova, ECAS Director, and Marta Pont, ECAS Membership and Outreach Manager, as well as Ecas Chairman Malachy Vallely who looked at the impact different borders would have once Brexit takes place, including that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar and Spain and in Cyprus.

The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Garcia gave a speech tited “The Implications of Brexit for Gibraltar” before the coffee break, the full speech is included below.

There was also a discussion from a panel exporing the vision, strategies and solutions for the citizens of Gibraltar, and a questions and answer session before the closing speech from Minister for Equality and Housing, Samantha Sacramento.

Here is Dr Garcia’s full speech below:

Thank you for the opportunity to address you in this seminar on “The implications of Brexit for Gibraltar.”

For those of you from outside Gibraltar, I am the Deputy Chief Minister of the Government and the Minister for European Affairs. After the Referendum on the continued UK membership of the European Union, I also took on ministerial responsibility for work related to our departure from the EU as well.

So I am responsible both for our membership of Europe and for leaving Europe at the same time.

Last year Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. It was a resounding 96% vote from a people who have always proudly considered themselves to be a part of the European family of nations.

We now find ourselves in a position which we did not support and where we did not want to be.

It is particularly painful for many of us as members of a Government that has sought over the years to promote Gibraltar in Europe and Europe in Gibraltar as a matter of political philosophy.

Europe and our future within it is why I became involved in politics twenty six years ago.

The referendum result was a mandate to examine all the options open to us going forward in view of the conflict between the overwhelming vote in Gibraltar to remain and the narrow overall decision to leave in the UK.

A considerable amount of work has therefore ensued since the 23 June last year.

We have come to terms with the fact that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union and so is Gibraltar.

The focus, both here and in London, is on the shape and detail of the new relationship with the EU.

Over many months, the Chief Minister and I have engaged with the United Kingdom Government at the highest levels.

In London, we have met with Prime Minister Theresa May, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox (himself an old friend of Gibraltar) with Brexit Secretary David Davis and with the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

Junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker has been here to see the situation for himself.

In Brussels, we have engaged with the Commission, with the Parliament and with the Member States. The Gibraltar representation in Brussels is busier than ever putting across our point of view.

In Washington DC, we have discussed our concerns with the new administration and with members of Congress from the Democratic and the Republican parties. There is strong interest in maintaining the status quo in this part of the world at a time of so much instability and uncertainty elsewhere.

The formal engagement with the United Kingdom has been through a Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) between the UK and Gibraltar Governments. This process will continue as the negotiations with the European Union progress.

The JMC provides the mechanism through which Gibraltar feeds in its views.

At the same time as engaging with the UK Government, we have also met with all the relevant personalities in the Opposition parties in the Westminster Parliament. Indeed, some of these have or will be coming to Gibraltar in order to learn more about our situation, subject of course to the outcome of the UK general election.

In all those contacts, the support for Gibraltar has been absolute and this is very encouraging. In such a complex world, a relationship with the European Union is a logical and reasonable objective.

We have engaged with the Governments of Scotland, of Wales and of Northern Ireland. Scotland and Northern Ireland, like Gibraltar, voted to remain. The Chief Minister and I discussed Brexit with the First Minister of Scotland. I then met Mrs Sturgeon again in Glasgow and at the end of last year I travelled to Wales to compare notes with the First Minister Carwyn Jones.

We have had contact too with the Northern Ireland Executive, although this has been more limited because of the political issues there and the subsequent election. It was nonetheless useful for us to meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

We have held discussions with the other UK Overseas Territories, who have their own Joint Ministerial Council, and with the Crown Dependencies.

Indeed, we even met representatives from Greenland, the only part of a Member State to have exited the European Union.

We have left no stone unturned.

This is what we promised to do in June 2016 and it is what we have done.

This work will continue.

Therefore Gibraltar will leave the European Union with the United Kingdom. We do not want to leave but we will leave.

The precise shape of that departure both for the UK and for Gibraltar are not clear at this stage. There are a number of variables and considerations. Indeed, the negotiations have not even begun. The UK itself has entered into an electoral process.

There are a wide variety of possible outcomes too – for the UK, and, of course, for Gibraltar also.

So looking forward with exact precision is not an easy task.

However, within the variables that exist there are elements of certainty.

In August and September the Government compiled a detailed report on the impact that leaving the European Union would have across the public sector and on different areas of the economy.

Therefore we have been clear as to the impact of Brexit, and of different variations of Brexit, almost from day one.

Having said all that, before looking forward to the future, I shall start with the slightly easier job of looking backwards at some significant and relevant dates in our past.

This will provide some background on the challenges that Gibraltar faces today.

I will start at the beginning.

Gibraltar was captured by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704. This was followed in 1713 by the cession of Gibraltar to the British Crown under the Treaty of Utrecht ‘in perpetuity’ - which for the avoidance of doubt means forever.

Gibraltar was Spanish for 242 years and has now been British for 313 years.

A referendum was held exactly 50 years ago in 1967. This resulted in over 12,000 Gibraltarians voting to remain British, with exactly 44 individuals voting to become part of Spain.

In 1969, Spain closed the frontier gates completely, cutting off supplies of goods, including foodstuffs and medical products.

This action had both an important economic impact and also a serious human dimension.

Spanish workers were deprived of their employment in Gibraltar.

Families were split apart.

Telephone links were cut off.

Communications by sea were terminated.

Air communications were later to follow the same fate.

The economy on the Spanish side collapsed completely. A large number of people choose to emigrate to other parts of Spain or of Europe.

Therefore the border between Gibraltar and Spain has been used as a political weapon against the citizens of Gibraltar in the past. The objective was to force a change of sovereignty through political pressure by strangling our economy and harassing our community.

Successive Spanish Governments, whether dictatorship or democracy, have, at the same time, inflicted this hardship on their own people as well.

In the summer of 2013, for example, long delays of up to eight hours were experienced by workers, tourists and residents to enter or to exit Gibraltar. There were hundreds of complaints to the European Commission. Many of those complaints were channeled through ECAS itself.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron interrupted his summer holidays to speak to then President Barrasso.

The Commission sent three inspection visits to the border in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

At the end of the process, Spain was asked to reduce the intensity of the checks that were being carried out and to improve the physical infrastructure at the land frontier.

The result was that border fluidity in 2016 was better than it had been in 2013.

So for many thousands of people in and around Gibraltar the EU has worked.

However, the blanket of protection provided by European Union law will be removed when we leave.

It is significant to note that during the EU Referendum campaign, the then Spanish Foreign Minister did not rule out any option in relation to the frontier, including closing it completely.

He also stated that if Gibraltar wanted to remain in the EU, then the only way to do this was to share sovereignty with Spain.

This represents a clear continuation of the policy initiated by General Franco of using the border to pressure Gibraltar into making sovereignty concessions.

This policy failed then, it will fail now and it will continue to fail in the future.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of a fluid frontier for the efficient running of Gibraltar and for the economic development of the surrounding area of Spain.

This is not a secret.

Around 12,000 workers, approximately half the Rock’s working population, cross the frontier every morning in cars, on motor bikes and on foot.

In the evening, the same 12,000 return to their homes in Spain.

About 7,000 of the 12,000 are Spanish nationals, the rest being a combination of practically every other EU nationality.

The numbers comprise 7400 Spanish nationals, 2500 UK expats (who will cease to be EU nationals), nearly 600 Portuguese, over 400 Romanians, over 200 Italians, nearly 200 Hungarians and so on.

Gibraltar has become a microcosm of what Europe should be. It would be tragic if this were lost post-Bexit. Thousands of nationals of different Member States have chosen to live in one part of the Union and to cross an internal EU land border to work freely in another.

This is what Europe is all about.

It cannot be put at risk by pandering to the narrow and illegal interests of Spanish nationalism.

In addition to this, there are 10 million tourists who cross the border every year, mainly day-trippers coming down from the Costa del Sol. These generate economic growth and activity in Gibraltar which in turn results in the creation of employment for residents and for frontier workers.

In the last few weeks, a tightening of all Schengen borders has given Spain every opportunity to intermittently inflict delays on everyone crossing into and out of Gibraltar via the land frontier.

There is no justification for systematic checks on every person here. It is important to recall that the European Commission investigation itself concluded that Spain should carry out less intense targeted checks which were risk-based.

The importance of a smooth-running frontier to this part of the European continent is plain for all to see.

Studies have shown that Gibraltar accounts for 25% of the GDP of the neighboring region of Spain.

Gibraltar PLC, those 12,000 jobs, make us the second largest employer for the entire Spanish region of Andalucia, after its regional Government.

Post-Brexit, ten thousand EU nationals will still be crossing what will become an EU external border and those people will still enjoy EU rights.

On a positive note, there are solutions.

There are special arrangements in existence which regulate the entry and exit of workers, tourists and residents between the Schengen area and some European micro-states.

There may be opportunities to access Schengen.

The Local Frontier Traffic Regulation of 2006 provides a framework for special border crossing arrangements between EU and non-EU countries.

Indeed, Spain itself provides such special arrangements for border crossings into and out of the North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla.

The truth is that the basis for a solution to frontier fluidity already exists if there is the political will to implement it.

I would like, at this stage, to address the issues raised by the reference to Gibraltar in the draft guidelines of the European Council.

The draft Council guidelines say: “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”

The draft guidelines, which are due to be adopted this week, apply to the measures to regulate the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The guidelines do not apply to the exit deal.

Under Article 50 of the Treaty, no Member State has a veto on the exit deal provided that this is agreed within two years. The vote on the exit deal would be by qualified majority voting. It would only require unanimity in the event of an extension of time for its conclusion beyond the two years.

However, all Member States do have a veto on the agreement which will regulate the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The draft Council guidelines almost provide Spain with an additional veto, a ‘second bite at the cherry.’ I say this because Spain will enjoy the original veto, in common with all the other Member States, and then a second veto in relation to the application to Gibraltar of any aspect of the UK/EU agreement.

The use of such a wording by the Council was therefore unnecessary. It was tactless and insensitive as well, particularly against the background of the 96% remain vote in Gibraltar.

The European Parliament’s own guidelines, which make no direct reference to Gibraltar, are more sensitively and accurately worded.

The Parliament has called for the European Union’s external borders to be one of the areas addressed first as part of the withdrawal agreement.

There are three land borders with the EU that the UK will ultimately be responsible for. These are the borders of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, between Cyprus and the Sovereign Bases, and that with Spain at Gibraltar.

The fact remains that the singling out of Gibraltar in the draft Council guidelines is both discriminatory and unacceptable in the modern Europe of today.

It is important to recall, as I said earlier, that Spain has already used the EU in the past in order to advance its outdated sovereignty claim and not only in relation to the border.

This Spanish attitude has led to a series of EU Aviation measures being held up for the whole of the European Union because of the Spanish Government’s dangerous and destructive obsession with Gibraltar.

The EU’s Single European Sky 2+ initiative, the Slots legislation, that on Air Passenger Rights and the EU-Ukraine Aviation Agreements are all held up thanks to Spain.

The reason for this is because Spain claims the land on which Gibraltar Airport is situated.

In 2006, the Governments of Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and Spain signed an agreement under which Spain committed to stop seeking the exclusion of Gibraltar airport from EU aviation measures.

In return, it was agreed that the Government of Gibraltar would construct a large new air terminal alongside the border. Spain would construct an adjoining building on the Spanish side with direct access into the air terminal.

Gibraltar honoured its part of the bargain and completed and paid for the new air terminal, which some of you may have seen. It opened at the end of 2011.

However, also at the end of 2011, the Spanish Government changed.

The new Government resiled from the agreement and decided to block EU aviation measures once again unless Gibraltar Airport was left out.

This attitude is completely dishonourable.

The connecting building on the Spanish side was never built.

In good faith, the taxpayers of Gibraltar have paid for a much larger airport terminal than perhaps they really needed.

Spain failed to honour what they had signed up to.

The point is that these aviation issues remain unresolved as we move into the Brexit negotiations.

Our view is that Gibraltar Airport should be included in the new UK/EU aviation agreement that will need to be concluded. It should also form a part of new aviation agreements between the United Kingdom and third countries once we have left the European Union.

Brexit is unlikely to resolve another long-standing political dispute generated by Spain over British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.

One of the cardinal principles of the International Law of the Sea is that coastal territories are automatically entitled to a band of territorial sea.

International courts and tribunals have repeatedly affirmed this principle.

When Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, the extent of a coastal state’s jurisdiction depended on the reach of its cannons. The so-called ‘cannon-shot rule’ evolved over the centuries into a principle of international law, permitting states to assert three, and later up to twelve, nautical miles of territorial sea.

The principle is today enshrined in Article 2 of UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that ‘the sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters … to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea’.

Relying on this point of law, Britain currently asserts three nautical miles of territorial sea around Gibraltar and up to the median line in the Bay.

The declarations made by Spain when signing and ratifying UNCLOS, to the effect that it does not accept that Gibraltar is entitled to a territorial sea, change nothing. Article 310 of UNCLOS provides that such political declarations cannot ‘purport to exclude or to modify the legal effect of the provisions of this Convention’.

In 2006, the United Kingdom designated an environmental Site of Community Importance (SIC) under the Habitats Directive in Gibraltar waters called Southern Waters of Gibraltar.

Two years later, Spain designated an overlapping site, which included both UK-Gibraltar and international waters as if they were Spanish. This is yet another example of Spain making use of EU processes in a blatant attempt to progress their claim.

The Commission agreed to this overlapping Spanish designation even though it was physically in the same geographical area. When a legal challenge was mounted against the Spanish designation, it was rejected by the Court on a technicality.

The United Kingdom and Gibraltar have never recognised the Spanish designation. It is important to note that sovereignty is determined by the UN Convention and not by EU environmental considerations.

However, what will happen when the UK and Gibraltar withdraw from the EU and only the Spanish designation remains?

It is obvious that our departure from the European Union will create challenges by land, in the air and at sea.

I mentioned earlier the study that we carried out into the impact of Brexit across all sectors of the economy.

In the last 20 years, Gibraltar’s economy has been transformed from a defence-oriented economy to a resilient and diversified economy which competes for business in the wider world.

There has been huge recent growth in our economy. In the four financial years from 2011/12 to 2014/15 the GDP of our nation rose by 49% from £1.1 billion to £1.64 billion. The preliminary GDP forecast for 2015/16 is now estimated to be £1.77 billion and we are working to a target that would see increases in GDP to at least £2.4 Billion by the end of March 2020.

This represents a continued average annual growth of around 7.5%.

We are in the fortunate position of having virtually zero unemployment and have to rely on imported labour to carry out jobs in many areas of economic activity.

Therefore while the effect of immigration on the labour market has raised concerns in the United Kingdom, no such concerns apply in Gibraltar.

More than that, we need this labour in order to be able to function.

It is also relevant to point out that there are immigration controls in place between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. This means that border fluidity at the land frontier with Spain will have no impact on the UK itself.

Our economy is based on well-regulated and transparent financial services and online gaming industries, the port, maritime services and tourism.

The impact study showed that access to the EU Single Market is important to only a small proportion of our financial services industry.

Indeed, 90% of business in this area is UK and not EU-facing.

For example nearly 20% of UK motor insurance is sold through insurance companies based in Gibraltar. It is estimated that 60% of UK on-line bets are taken by Gibraltar gaming companies.

This economic reality will contain the impact of Brexit considerably in such areas.

The UK has already assured us that Gibraltar’s existing level of access to the UK market will be maintained and expanded.

It is important to point out that since the outcome of the referendum became known, 2 new gaming companies and 20 new financial services companies have been licensed to operate in Gibraltar with other new arrivals in the pipeline.

Gibraltar has never belonged to the EU Customs Union nor do we enjoy freedom of movement in goods. We levy import duty on goods coming in from the EU and even from the UK itself.

No changes are foreseen to this system post-Brexit.

We have been working extremely closely with UK Ministers to ensure that Gibraltar gets it share of any post-Brexit trade deals that the UK may sign up to with countries around the world.

Our departure from the European Union will result in the loss of EU funding. We have received about 60 million euros in EU funding since this was first made available in the 1990s.

This funding has come from the European Regional Development Fund (32 million euros), the European Social Fund (18 million euros) and the Inter Regional Transnational Programmes INTERREG (9 million euros).

European Union funding has led to the successful completion of 75 public sector projects and 202 private sector projects.

115 new businesses have been created.

87 existing businesses have been encouraged to expand.

3715 jobs have been created or safeguarded.

5143 qualifications have been obtained.

EU funding was important to Gibraltar during the transition from a military orientated economy to a civilian one. 

Military barracks have been transformed into modern shops and restaurants.

Other installations have been converted into schools.

Naval stores have become industrial parks.

The latest programme for the period 2014-2020 has received a total of 10.5 million euros.

EU funding will come to an end when the UK and Gibraltar leave the European Union. Even though the sums involved are not huge, the impact of this in a small economy is important.

Moving on to other issues, I should stress that Brexit is expected to have little direct impact on military issues but our future post-Brexit relationship with Spain will have strategic implications. With Britain’s only deep-water port in the Mediterranean and a military-owned airfield, Gibraltar will remain an important Forward Mounting Base for the UK.

The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the main maritime ‘choke points’ in the world (others are the Gulf of Hormuz in the Middle-east, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal and the Bosporus which links the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea).

I do not think it I am revealing any state secret when I say that the Rock has a surveillance capability over the Strait, through which one-fifth of the World’s oil passes. This also allows UK to be aware when naval assets move into or out of the Mediterranean Sea.

The UK considers that, by having a Forward Mounting Base on Gibraltar it is ‘1,000 miles nearer the action.’

This fact will not change, Brexit or no Brexit.

I should make it clear that the Ministry of Defence contribution to the economy of Gibraltar has shrunk from over 60% thirty years ago to less than 6% today.

You may not be aware that, during the days of General Franco, Spain banned any RAF (or NATO) aircraft from passing through Spanish airspace when travelling to and from Gibraltar.

Amazingly, our NATO ally continues with this policy even today.

Last year when the British Foreign Secretary visited the Rock on an RAF aircraft to campaign in the referendum, he was forced to fly via Portugal and the Straits rather than overfly Spain.

A similar policy applies on the waters: no naval ship from a NATO nation may sail from Gibraltar direct to a Spanish port.

It is astonishing that NATO allows this policy to continue.

As for Europe, the people of Gibraltar have been enthusiastic Europeans for more than four decades.

We carry EU format identity cards which are valid travel documents throughout the European Union.

These cards do not even exist in the United Kingdom.

You will recall the time when the EU format car number plates were introduced, with the EU flag in one corner and, in our case, the letters GBZ in the centre. People in Gibraltar paid to change their vehicle number plates to the new EU format.

We have been faithful to the obligations of EU membership.

We have a record which is second to none in the transposition of EU directives.

Europe is far for perfect. We all know that.

But for us Europe has worked.

We do not want to leave but we are going.

The clock has now started to tick on the Brexit negotiations.

The EU institutions are planning their next steps.

The Member States are nervous.

No Member State has left the European Union before.

In addition to all this, the UK itself is now in an electoral process.

Whilst we can be certain of very little with almost two years of Brexit negotiations ahead of us, we remain confident that we will have the continuing support of whatever UK Government is elected on the 8th of June.

And so, it is obvious that a sensible, orderly and well-managed Brexit is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union.

It is also in the best interests of Gibraltar and of Spain.

Madrid cannot continue making poor, illogical and ill-founded arguments with respect to Gibraltar.

This behavior is not in anyone’s interests.

The Brexit negotiations require careful, sensitive, candid and constructive energy and focus.

Nobody needs this to be driven by Spain’s prehistoric notions of national pride which should be firmly in the past and not in the future.

In conclusion, it is wrong to allow Madrid to once again throw the Gibraltar spanner into the works.

This will only serve to complicate a situation that is already complicated enough as it is.

Thank you for listening.