EXCLUSIVE: Gibraltar deputy Joseph Garcia says many reasons to be cheerful about future in sit down with the Olive Press

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DEPUTY: Garcia

IT is like National Day all over again, as I arrive at Number 6 to interview deputy leader Dr Joseph Garcia.

Outside there is a sea of red and white as the NatWest ‘Super Sprint’ triathlon is in full swing, and the atmosphere is frenetic.

It leads to Garcia recalling his own cycling heyday while attending Hull University some years back – but the less said about the wind-chill in Yorkshire the better, he jokes.

He has just returned from participating in the 2017 Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, in which he participated in a panel discussion entitled ‘Brexit and Borders’ with David Ford the former Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland and Alistair Carmichael the MP for Orkney and Shetland.

“From our point of view it is essential that our border is remembered as one of three that needs to be addressed in Brexit negotiations,” he explains, the other two being Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

“We are not in a customs union like Northern Ireland; our issue is not maintaining the free movement of goods.

The border

“In our case we have control and check points already – goods pay an import duty and that revenue goes directly to the Government as general revenue.

“It is the debate about the movement of people rather than the movement of goods which is more important.”

The movement across the border has long been a point of contention.

Infamously, General Franco sealed the border in 1969 and it did not open again until 1982. More recently in 2013, severe delays were imposed on those trying to cross the border as the Spanish authorities attempted to inconvenience Gibraltarians.

It was protection from the European Union, Dr Garcia believes, which stopped the situation deteriorating further.

“In 2013, the queues led to complaints being made to the European Commission, who sent inspectors to the border as a result and Spain was forced to back down.

“It was also European law that stopped them from introducing the border tax they wanted to impose at one stage,” he says.

Nowadays, as he is quick to point out, any potential ‘blockade’ poses equal hazards to the Spanish as it does the Gibraltarians.

Some figures place the number of Spaniards crossing the border each day for work at 7,500. Others nearer 10,000.

NEIGHBOURS: La Linea

Juan Franco, the mayor of La Línea, infamously remarked that ‘our economic dependency on Gibraltar is practically total.’

Despite the many jobs across the border, La Línea’s unemployment rate remains the highest in Spain at 35.33%.

“I think there is a clear awareness that it is in their interest to have a frictionless border, as fluid as possible,” explains Garcia.

“We account for 20% of the GDP (in Andalucia) and we are also the second largest employer in the whole of Andalucia.”

A possible softening of Spanish attitudes towards the Rock recently came from an unlikely source; the Spanish Supreme Court.

Just last week, the Court ruled that the Spanish newspaper ABC had fallen foul of defamation laws by labeling the rock as a ‘tax haven’ among other slander.  

“It set down a real marker,” he says. “It is a fantastic recognition of Gibraltar sovereignty, that the international law of defamation also applies to us. You cannot simply go around inventing stories about people.”

Dr Garcia does remain concerned however about the highly contentious Clause 24 in the European Council’s Article 50 guidelines for Brexit negotiations.

While all EU nations have a possible veto on the UK’s Brexit deal, Spain has a second veto as part of Clause 24 on how that deal applies to Gibraltar.

“We need to make it clear that Gibraltar is leaving the EU and therefore deserves any benefits that the UK gets.

“It is totally unacceptable for Spain to blackmail Gibraltar into leaving the UK.

“You could very well get to a stage where the EU/UK exit deal is agreed but then Spain takes a view that this will not apply to Gibraltar,” he remarks.

When discussing the future of Gibraltar, Dr Garcia uses several buzzwords to describe the Rock – innovative, modern and global-facing.

Gibraltar has an education system in place which the youth on the British Isles can only dream of.

Its government funds Gibraltarian students from Bachelor to Doctorate level entirely, while also providing free of charge internships at eminent global organisations such as the Washington Institute.

Gibraltar has also overcome any fall-out from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis to retain its reputation as a global leader in financial services.

Many of the world’s fastest growing corporations, such as Lottoland, have chosen the Rock to base their business.

The Rock is establishing new trade links further afield although its dependence on the EU is much less than its Spanish neighbours would have you think.

A recent study conducted by the Gibraltarian Chamber of Commerce discovered 90% of its business faces the UK, as opposed to the EU.

At least 20% of UK motor insurance is sold through Gibraltarian companies and 60% of online gaming bets are taken in Gibraltar, for example.

The Rock is in negotiation with a number of foreign powers, including India, regarding post-Brexit trade deals.

A recent policy pivot has also seen Gibraltar turn towards North Africa, setting up air and sea links with Morocco and removing visas for those from the Maghreb who wish to do business on the Rock or visit as tourists.    

“People feel passionately about who they are,” Dr Garcia enamours.

“We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum – 99% of people voted to remain British; you can’t have it clearer than that.”

 

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