The Government agree with only one point made by the Opposition in their latest absurd tirade on our negotiations for a future relationship with the European Union. This is that we should not beat about the bush. Therefore it needs to be said that Gibraltar can only give thanks that the Brexit crisis hit us with a GSLP/Liberal Government in power. If Mr Azopardi had been at the helm his lack of basic knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the political and legal issues at stake would have sunk Gibraltar in 2016 straight after the referendum. It is indeed alarming that someone who aspires to lead Gibraltar should show himself to be so shallow and so self-interested in matters which are crucial to the very future of us all. He has shown no statesmanship and no sense of responsibility.
The situation is simply too important for Mr Azopardi to play politics in this way. Mr Azopardi says that Gibraltar is the only British place without a deal. He seems not to know that none of the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom, or indeed of the European Union, were covered by the UK-EU TCA simply because the EU refused to engage with the UK on their inclusion. More than that, the very opposite is true, Gibraltar is the ONLY Overseas Territory precisely for which a Treaty negotiation is on the way. Moreover, the UK-EU TCA is primarily a trade agreement.
This is of little or no interest to Gibraltar given that we have no manufacturing industry and no agriculture. It put up immigration barriers between the UK and the EU when we are seeking to remove immigration barriers as set out in the New Year’s Eve Agreement. We want a mobility agreement in the main not a trade agreement. It is concerning that Mr Azopardi has still not grasped this basic difference. Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and Spain agreed, on 31 December 2020, that a series of bridging measures would be put in place to provide for a degree of continuity and normality in our relationship with the EU and with Spain while a new UK-EU Treaty about Gibraltar was negotiated. Those measures were partly based on the Spanish Decreto Real, which continues in force until 30 June and which Spain itself has said will be extended, partly on administrative practices and partly on the existence of the set of MoUs. It should be recalled that the GSD itself were against the MoUs and threatened to terminate them.
Those MoUs expired on 31 December but are in the process of being renewed. The stamping of passports of non-EU nationals who enter and exit the Schengen area is a requirement of the Schengen Border Code. Holders of UK passport are subject to such stamping no matter where they enter or leave the European Union. Gibraltar is not in the EU and is not in the Schengen. UK passport holders, including Gibraltarians, are entitled to a stay of 90 days in 180 visa-free in the Schengen area. The stamping of passports is the mechanism used to keep a count and ensure that there is no overstay.
The indications are that the practice at the Gibraltar-Spain border has become entangled with the wider expiry of the time limits for UK nationals resident in Spain to regularise their position as well as the opening of the Spanish market to UK holidaymakers post COVID restrictions. The Government has been advised, for example, that UK nationals who are resident in Spain who have a “Certificado de registro de cuidadano de la union” (a green coloured card) will have their passports stamped, as this is a residence document only for EU nationals and they should have changed it by now to a “Tarjeta de Indetificacion Extranjeros” (TIE).
The Chief Minister was in touch with the UK and Spanish Government yesterday and has been assured that the stamping will nonetheless revert to the position that existed previously for Gibraltar residents only. Given this situation, it is important that those going to Spain should take their passport, as a travel document, and their identity card, as a residence document.
Mr Azopardi knows full well that the negotiations with the European Union have not commenced because the EU Commission have not yet produced a negotiating mandate for agreement by the European Council. This has nothing to do with Gibraltar or even with the United Kingdom. Indeed, Gibraltar, the UK and Spain have all indicated a willingness to move forward with the treaty negotiations based on the New Year’s Eve Agreement. It is shameful that Mr Azopardi should point the finger at his own Government for this.
The Government has explained in detail and on different occasions to Mr Azopardi that the Withdrawal Agreement provided RECIPROCAL rights for UK nationals (including Gibraltarians) in the European Union and for EU nationals in the United Kingdom and in Gibraltar. Therefore his point on freedom of movement is nonsensical. This was about the protection of existing rights for everyone who enjoyed exercising those rights before 31 December 2020.
The Chief Minister Fabian Picardo QC MP said:
“The Leader of the Opposition has done himself no favours with the intemperate and factually inaccurate statement that he has issued. He has attempted to blame the Government for everything under the sun, even for issues which are very obviously outside Gibraltar’s control. Indeed, the very reason we had any bridging measures in the first place was due precisely to the negotiating efforts of this Government! If it had been for the GSD, we would have crashed out of the EU in 2019, and endured stamping of passports for everyone since then, given that they did not want the Withdrawal Treaty or the MoUs. We would not have had a transition period and we would have had no expectation of a future relationship with the European Union as they were also against the New Year’s Eve Agreement. They cannot have it both ways. Mr Azopardi’s reaction is disappointing. He has shown that he has no notion of the national interest or of national unity despite his proclamations to