(as published in the Gibraltar Chronicle on 11th July 2023)

The wish for self-determination is best safe guarded by reaching a Gibexit treaty. The continuing UK public debate about the mistake of it having left the EU supports that conclusion. In the meantime, our own future following Brexit continues to be discussed in many circles.

In that context some speak of the UK seeking to rejoin the EU. Such a step will prove hugely difficult for the UK. It will be more difficult for us, were no satisfactory Gibexit treaty to be finalised.

If the current negotiations between the UK and the EU to arrive at a Gibexit treaty, governing EU-Gibraltar relations, were not to succeed, the difficulties for us will be more extreme than those for the UK. The outcome of those talks however is hugely influenced, not to say controlled, by Spain.

The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, in his evidence to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee last week said failure to reach a Gibexit treaty could mean that passport controls will be imposed at the land border to allow entry into Gibraltar. The downside of that to our economy is obvious.

It will slow down access for, and reduce the number of, much needed tourists and visitors. They spend here, thus supporting our economy, and in turn public finances.

Those potential adverse effects of Brexit are not being felt for now due to the exceptional benign temporary regime being applied at the border. Those do not conform to the requirements applicable under EU/Schengen norms.

The benevolent border treatment allows for free access from Spain into Gibraltar of all EU citizens and unimpeded access to Spain by our red identification card holders. As a result, cross-border tourism seems to be booming again, with many day-visitors arriving.

One does not know how long those beneficial exceptional arrangements will last if progress towards a Gibexit deal is not finalised. Spain’s politicians should not ignore that the advantages are for both sides of the border. The economy of the Campo de Gibraltar and its inhabitants working in Gibraltar also benefit hugely from free border movement.

There are some who believe that, in the very unlikely event of the UK wishing to rejoin the EU, and doing so, that would settle matters for us also. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the dynamics of power within the EU have changed following the UK’s departure. Spain, not the UK, is now in the driving seat.

The position was very different back in the early 1980’s when Spain wanted to join. The UK, as an existing member, was then calling the shots. Spain had to allow freedom of movement across its land border with us.

It all points to a Gibexit deal being hugely important for us and the Campo de Gibraltar. It is the best way forward for both. It is that Gibexit deal which could transcend beyond any treaty by which the UK may in the future rejoin the EU.

Reaching a treaty does not mean that the core issues of ‘sovereignty, jurisdiction, and control’ should, or need, be negotiated away. One must, however, understand what that much bandied about phrase means. It is a hugely complex subject, but there is a core, which needs input and debate.

It is our Constitution and the umbilical cord back to the UK that it provides.

It is our parliamentary system of government.

It is our judicial system and laws based on England and its common law.

It is our economy, its structures, and our public finances.
It is our independent national identity founded on British historical continuity and heritage.

It is our British understanding, modes, and nationality.

It is our ‘separateness’ in every sense, including cultural, from the immediate hinterland.

Let us ensure that any Gibexit deal protects those ingredients of that core.

However, historical stubbornness that undermines a Gibexit treaty may not be what will protect all that into the future. Defending what that core is the battle that must be won.

Without winning it, we lose the war for our national independent identity. It is a war that we have been fighting for decades. It is our quest for self-determination within this increasingly interconnected world.

Our current battle is best won by achieving an acceptable Gibexit treaty. again, a battle without losers, least of all Spain, who should not alienate, and take huge care not to alienate, our feelings again by driving a physical wedge between our communities and families at the border through denying a Gibexit deal.

In any event, everything points to the prospects of the UK rejoining the EU being miniscule, not least because those derogations enjoyed by it before Brexit would not be available any longer. EU membership for the UK in the future would likely require it to join fully, including Schengen. UK political reality and nationalistic feelings prevent that happening.

Further any rejoining negotiation would take a very lengthy time. For example, Turkey has been waiting 25 years to become an EU member. The UK will likely not be allowed to jump the queue. After all it left the ‘club’.

A scenario that is more likely to evolve now between the UK and the EU is the ‘Swiss model’, to give it a label. There are nascent signs of that developing, although the EU itself does not like that model, as it needs complicated governance and results in lack of enforcement.

Switzerland is not, and has no desire to be, an EU member, in part because of its historical neutral status. Instead, Switzerland negotiates and enters a myriad of treaties with the EU governing specific areas, from selective access to the single market to participation in research and education programs and EU policies on borders and asylum.

Recent history, not least the Brexit agreement itself, shows that Spain will not cooperate with us being treated by the EU in the same way as the UK. All points to Spain not agreeing to our inclusion in a series of EU-UK treaties based on the ‘Swiss model’. We will simply be left out and ignored, just as we were not included in the Brexit agreement.

Accordingly, any reliance by us on that developing aspect of UK foreign policy would be misplaced. Let us progress towards a Gibexit treaty. If one is reached and announced let us review it calmly and with open minds. Let us resist a knee-jerk reaction to summarily discard it. Such behaviour may be contrary to us remaining a jurisdiction with the capacity to self-determine.