UK Government has a ‘moral resposibility' to ensure Gibraltar's voice is heard in Brexit negotiations
The House of Lords EU Committee has today published its report on the impact of Brexit on Gibraltar, in which it makes clear that the UK Government has a ‘moral responsibility' to ensure that Gibraltar's voice is heard, and its interests protected, throughout Brexit negotiations with the EU.
The Committee highlights how Gibraltar's economic development has been underpinned by access to the EU Single Market in services, and to the thousands of ‘frontier workers' who cross daily into Gibraltar over the border with Spain (making up 40% of its entire workforce). While the extent to which Brexit will affect Single Market access, and the border, remains uncertain, the report emphasises that there are serious potential economic implications for both Gibraltar and the surrounding area of Spain.
The report also points out that 95.9% of votes cast in Gibraltar were for the UK to stay in the EU, by far the strongest vote for ‘remain' of any area eligible to participate in the referendum. Now set to leave the EU, the territory has placed its trust in the UK to secure a Brexit deal that meets Gibraltar's needs. The Committee stresses that the UK Government has a moral responsibility to ensure Gibraltar's voice is heard, and its interests respected, throughout the negotiating process.
The Committee strongly endorses the UK Government's commitment never to enter into sovereignty discussions with Spain against the will of the Gibraltarian people. It supports the approach of engaging positively and pragmatically with Spain, emphasising the mutual importance of the economic relationship between the UK and Spain, and between Gibraltar and Andalusia. The report concludes that, outside the common forum provided by shared EU membership, Spain, the UK and Gibraltar must redouble their efforts to find a structure which facilitates ongoing dialogue, regional cooperation and trade.
Other conclusions of the report include:
- Gibraltar's most significant economic relationship is with the UK itself, and it will be important for the UK and Gibraltar to maintain and enhance these ties to help mitigate any losses experienced by Gibraltar as a result of Brexit. The UK Government should also clarify what future UK-based funding will be available to Gibraltar after 2020 if it can no longer participate in EU programmes following Brexit.
- The UK Government should prioritise Gibraltar as part of its wider commitment to continuing cooperation with the EU on security and policing, to ensure that the border with Spain cannot be exploited by those seeking to evade justice.
- Existing EU regulations on managing local border traffic between neighbouring (third) countries and the Schengen zone could provide a future basis for movement of labour between Spain and Gibraltar, but any agreement will require commitment from both sides to sustain it.
- The UK Government must remain alert to and resist any attempts by Spain to involve the sovereignty dispute in EU withdrawal and future trade negotiations, or to encroach upon Gibraltar's sovereignty through the medium of EU laws or policies when the UK is ‘out of the room', after Brexit.
- The EU itself could play a role in helping to maintain open lines of communication between Spain, the UK and Gibraltar following Brexit.
Commenting on the report, Lord Boswell, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, said:
"The people of Gibraltar overwhelmingly supported staying in the EU during the referendum. Gibraltar has strong social and cultural ties to Europe, and its economy has been built around access to the EU Single Market in services. Over 10,000 Spanish and other EU national ‘frontier workers' also make up 40% of the territory's total workforce.
"Negotiating on Gibraltar's behalf, the UK Government has a moral duty to represent and promote the interests of the Gibraltarian people, during Brexit and beyond.
"It is of course possible that the sovereignty dispute with Spain may yet surface in the context of Brexit. But we believe it is in the mutual interest of Gibraltar and Spain to maintain a free-flowing frontier and to continue good cross-border police and judicial cooperation.
"We strongly endorse the UK's commitment to defending Gibraltar's sovereignty. But we also call on the Government to start thinking now about structures that might facilitate open communication and regional cooperation between Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar after Brexit."