The French Presidential election this month, Parliamentary elections in France in a few weeks, a snap general election in the UK and then the German elections in September – all this political activity has, at once, both a significant bearing on Gibraltar and none at all. Let me explain.
The election of Mr Macron, an out and out Europhile, as the new French President will have been received with some trepidation in the UK. Any hardening of the EU’s position vis-a-vis the UK is likely to shorten the odds of a hard Brexit, in much the same way as a significant increase in a Tory government majority at Westminster potentially would too. Any willingness on the part of the EU to try and help Mrs May ‘sell’ a deal to a Parliament where she has only a slight majority might be a bit less forthcoming if she had majority of 100+ MPs. Ironic, of course, because with such a majority, she herself would not be as beholden to the will of the hard Brexiteer faction of her party as she is today.
Interesting as all this is, it’s possible that it is irrelevant in the Gibraltar context, for two reasons: Firstly, on an objective analysis of the negotiating positions adopted by both the UK and the EU (in particular Clause 24) it is unlikely that any agreement reached would ever actually end up applying to Gibraltar; and secondly, whether or not an agreement is extended to us, our dependence on access to the EU single market is, in any event, really very limited. In fact, 90% of the services provided by Gibraltar are provided to the UK and it is expected that direct access to the UK will be safeguarded by virtue of a bilateral arrangement with the UK.
Notwithstanding the above analysis, the professional community in Gibraltar has been busy exploring and developing new, ‘Brexit-insensitive’ areas of business, an example of which is Fintech. The great big question mark in all this is the rather less complicated issue of fluidity at our land border with Spain.
The border is a critical part of the economic construct in Gibraltar. It doesn’t matter how good your product or service may be if your employees can’t get to work in the morning. Events so far this year allow us, however, to contemplate the possibility that the Spanish authorities might not, after all, be intent on tightening the border screws and that they might, instead, be ready to acknowledge the value that Gibraltar offers the local area both directly by employing some 12,000 cross-border workers and indirectly by means of the economic benefit to the area from Gibraltar’s continued growth.
On this note, it is worth reminding ourselves of the words of the Chief Minister at the recent annual Chamber of Commerce Dinner. He asserted that, ten months on from the referendum, ‘all is well, the fortress is secure.’ The hope must be that, going forward, the fortress remains secure, but only to the extent that we choose. The issue of border fluidity depends not on the letter of law, but on good will, and there is a glimmer of hope that common sense will prevail.