Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Brexit already happening in Gibraltar as PM tells EU UK’s offer is ‘very generous and fair’

Supermarket shelves in Gibraltar already bare as residents stockpile ahead of Brexit

Gibraltar has been a British territory for 300 years but there are tensions between the UK and Spain over its status after the UK leaves the European Union. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Gibraltar has been a British territory for 300 years but there are tensions between the UK and Spain over its status after the UK leaves the European Union. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

It is 50 years since families were separated and the residents of Gibraltar were faced with over a decade of isolation following the blockade of its border.

The wilderness years following Spanish leader Francisco Franco’s closure of its border in 1969 may be a distant memory for some but now the communities are facing a new threat – Brexit.

Reports of supermarket shelves being left bare, shortages of vital medicines and fears over delays in essential daily border crossings are now at the forefront of the minds of many.

Officially there might only be four weeks to go until the UK leaves the EU but for those on the frontline in Gibraltar it feels like it is already happening and the recent effects on daily life are a snapshot of things to come.

On Monday, the UK seemed no closer to obtaining a new Brexit deal after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he had already made a “very generous, fair and reasonable offer” to the EU.

Mr Johnson said he had made a “big compromise” and urged the EU to set out in detail its concerns with his Brexit plan.

It came as a bid by campaigners to force him to ask for a delayed departure date was rejected by a Scottish court.

Gibraltar has warned residents and businesses it is already preparing for the “worst case scenario” and last week opened its Brexit Information Office to offer help and advice.

With 14,000 people crossing the border twice daily to work in Gibraltar, the communities reliant on the hassle free border crossing are understandably worried.

Some businesses have relocated to Malta to allow them continued access to the EU whilst others have told staff to start work later to avoid the expected border chaos.

In January, Denmark’s Jyske Bank A/S put its Gibraltar business up for sale, in part because it would be subject to different legislation when the UK and Gibraltar leave the EU.

UK government papers drawn-up to predict the impact of a no-deal Brexit have estimated delays at the border of up to four hours.

The last time delays repeatedly exceeded four hours the British government urgently summoned the Spanish ambassador to London to face the wrath of officials.

It came after Spain introduced stricter border checks in 2013 which saw motorists stuck for up seven hours.

Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MEP for South West England and Gibraltar says a no-deal Brexit will be a “scary” scenario for Gibraltar.

“Northern Ireland’s border issues are grabbing the headlines but Gibraltar is even more dependent on a fluid, open border,” he has said.

“The close, mutually beneficial relationship between Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbours is at obvious risk from the uncertainty and expected border disruption of no-deal.

“The government’s own assessment predicts hours of delays for border workers, and the disruption of food, medicines and other goods due to extra checks – all of which will harm Gibraltar’s economy.”

Chief minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo has raised concerns about panic buying and has warned people may have to sacrifice some imported British home comforts.

“My role as chief minister of Gibraltar, my core function in government, is to ensure that Gibraltar has food - not that it has particular British brands,” he said.

“The question is if you want Bovril, if you want Oxo, if you want Scottish beef, the things that come from the UK, which are available on our shelves and which make Gibraltar feel British,” he said. “That doesn’t concern me very much at all.”

During his weekly shop to Morrison’s supermarket, which is stocked by British produce delivered by trucks from the UK, he found shelves were bare due to a spree by British expats.

The risk is that after a crash Brexit, such empty shelves could become more frequent and shoppers will blame him, he said.

Morrison’s Gibraltar store highlights some of the difficulties the territory may face.

Goods shipped overland from the UK would have to be cleared into the EU and then out again through a Spanish customs post across the bay in Algeciras.

Morrison’s is “focused on serving customers in Gibraltar as best we can” and is “preparing for all eventualities,” the company said in an emailed statement.

One option to secure supplies would be to make extra storage space available and the administration has been looking into developing sea routes via Portugal and Morocco.

The territory already airlifts some supplies such as medicines and in preparation for Brexit it has organised a daily ferry to ship perishable produce from Algeciras.

Mr Picardo says the territory has been stockpiling medicines ahead of Brexit – at present all its medicines come from the UK.

Last week Gibraltar’s Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia urged people “not to panic” but warned that life will be “very different’ outside the EU.

“I think people need to understand that life outside the EU will be very different from life inside it,” he said.

“Once we are no longer a member of the club, we will no longer be subject to the rules and we will no longer be able to benefit from them.

“Things will be very different, there are solutions, but the solutions will involve processes and procedures, which are more complicated. Driving licenses for example, we now know that to drive in the EU, you will need an international driving permit. If you are driving to Spain, you will need one type of permit, if you are driving to Portugal you will need a different type of permit as well.

“That is what life outside the EU unfortunately means.”

Gibraltar has previously taken part in two referendums and voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty but in 2016 its 32,000 inhabitants voted by 96 per cent to stay in the bloc.

On Monday the UK’s tax and customs authority HMRC revealed businesses trading between the UK and EU will face almost 8 billion pounds of additional costs a year in a no-deal Brexit and importers will face paying £3.8 billion pounds for submitting the necessary customs declaration forms.

Mr Johnson was due to call the leaders of Poland, Sweden and Denmark on Monday for further talks.

It comes as David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, is at the European Commission for Brexit talks.

Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva says the UK now has to come up with “a workable solution now and not something based on untried and revocable arrangements.”

The negotiations this week are “to give the UK the opportunity to present their proposals in more detail and then we’ll take stock,” she added.

For now the departure date for Brexit stands as October 31.

Updated: October 7, 2019 07:21 PM

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