Nearly half of all “employee jobs” in Gibraltar would be put at risk by a “hard border”, if such were the result of the UK’s departure from the EU, a report by Gibraltar’s government has warned.
The report was presented as supplementary written evidence to the House of Lords EU Select Committee last week by Gibraltar’s chief minister, ahead of today’s keenly-anticipated speech by UK prime minister Theresa May, in which she had been expected to at last reveal more of her thoughts on Britain’s planned EU exit.
It followed a House of Lords committee hearing held last month, at which Gibraltar’s chief minister, deputy chief minister and attorney general all testified.
As expected, May’s speech confirmed reports that the UK would have to quit the EU’s single market after it left the EU, although she also said Parliament would have to vote on the exit, which some “Remainers” saw as a potential last chance that a full “hard Brexit”, at least, might be avoided.
She said the UK hoped to maintain partial membership of the EU’s customs union, continue tariff-free trade, and phase-in any changes rather than enacting them all at once.
More than the UK’s other overseas outposts, Gibraltar sees itself as vulnerable as a result of Britain’s pending EU exit because of its location, on a rocky finger of land extending off Spain’s southern coast, and because Spain has long made clear its belief that Gibraltar ought to be a part of Spain.
Last year Spanish officials proposed a “joint sovereignty” arrangement that they suggested would enable Gibraltar to continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership that it currently enjoys as a result of its relationship with the UK.
According to the Gibraltar government’s report, which is one of a number of submissions on the subject of Gibraltar that have been made to the EU Select Committee and posted on its website, “frontier fluidity” emerged from the Gibraltar government’s report as “the key concern for Gibraltar, as Britain prepares to withdraw from the European Union”.
“Clearly, until such time as we know what the new relationship between the UK and the EU will be, it is difficult to assess what the economic effect of Brexit on Gibraltar will be,” the report notes.
Nevertheless, “the potential economic implications [of Brexit, on Gibraltar] can be shown in relation to one single issue – the border,” it continues.
“The prospect of a ‘closed’ or ‘hard’ border is the most serious single issue that arises for Gibraltar from Brexit.”
Even now, according to the report, a “hard border” exists between Gibraltar and Spain, as a function of the fact that Gibraltar is not even now a part of the Common Customs Union, with respect to the movement of goods across its border with Spain, nor the Schengen agreement, with respect to the movement of people.
Noting that around 10,473 of the 26,144 “employee jobs” in Gibraltar are currently held by “frontier workers” – that is, individuals who cross into Gibraltar from Spain to work – the report notes that a “frontier which lacked the necessary fluidity for people to be able to access their places of work would therefore put directly at risk the jobs of 40% of the entire Gibraltar workforce.”
With respect to Spain’s response to Brexit, the report says: “It has been well-reported that no sooner had the referendum result been announced on 24 June 2016, the then-Spanish Acting Foreign Minister, Snr Margallo, shamelessly declared that Brexit presented Spain with the best opportunity in the last 300 years to recover the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar’s citizens, who were allowed to vote in the EU membership referendum last June, voted by 96% to 4% in favour of remaining within the EU.
To read and download the 32-page report, click here.