Alberto Valdivia’s work WhatsApp group was in full swing on the evening of December 14th. The working day ended hours ago, but all colleagues were online and waiting for the live performance of Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Madrid. Her professional life depended on it: Of the nine employees of the Gibraltar shipping company Incargo, five are Spanish cross-border commuters. “We’ve been following every news story about Brexit and at the time it seemed like they were finally going to say something about the Gibraltar-EU treaty,” says the 33-year-old accountant from Algeciras. But soon disappointment hit the group again: “After a while we all commented that they weren’t saying anything new. We are left with the desire to continue to wait, and in them we continue”.
Spain and the United Kingdom are negotiating the agreement that will govern the European Union’s post-Brexit relations with Gibraltar in talks that have been ongoing since a pre-agreement was signed on New Year’s Eve 2020, with no clear deadline. but with the uncertainty that makes 2023 the year of elections in Spain and Gibraltar.
Valdivia crossed the border from Gibraltar after 7am last Friday to reach the company where he has worked for the past seven years. The passage, through which 15,000 cross-border workers pass every day – 11,000 of them Spaniards, according to estimates by the Cross-Border Group, made up of companies and unions – lives months of calm and flow. But the man from Cadiz also knows what it’s like to stand in line for half an hour or three quarters of an hour, to be exposed to any conflict, as banal as a strike or as ethereal as a diplomatic misunderstanding. Therefore, the accountant knows that his work will be hanging by a thread if the agreement does not work and the gateway becomes a hard external border for the European Union. “We want to be optimistic, but I see it with concern. We don’t even know what they’re negotiating right now. I see everything with uncertainty, even keeping my job. And that Gibraltarians and Spaniards are mutually dependent,” he emphasizes.
“To sketch points, overcome pitfalls and polish edges”. That’s what Cleverly said last December 14, which is pending to reach an agreement. Since then, the parties have been silent, although they assure that negotiations will continue. “There’s talk all the time,” says a source close to the English side of the table. Gibraltar’s own Prime Minister Fabian Picardo (of the socialist GSLP party) – who has avoided making any statements – said in his New Year’s speech on Tuesday that what is now under discussion are “only deals for immigration and the movement of goods”. It is precisely this first point that hurts the most, since at the end of 2021 a previous agreement was reached, the New Year’s Eve Agreement, in which it was already put forward that the disappearance of the controls in the current gate was due to the presence of Spanish and Gibraltar police in the port and airport by The Rock, which was supported by Frontex, the European border protection agency, for the first four years.
Cars cross the land border of Gibraltar on the Spanish side of the border controlled by the National Police. Marcos Moreno
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The question of how and where this presence can be realized without clouding the conflicting positions of Spain and the UK on sovereignty issues has been at the center of negotiations ever since. But George Dyke, owner of Incargo, now chairman of the Cross Border Group – a unit of employers and unions on both sides of the fence – and director of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, wonders why enforcement hasn’t already started, having agreed that June 31. December, while the famous trailing fringes are closed. “We are a little fly. The issue appears to be political and according to the announcement, the plan was to set aside parameters that should not be touched. The group wants you to keep and implement your New Year’s commitment. There must be other things at play that we don’t know about. (…) London, Brussels and Madrid are very far from here. It’s an insecurity for everyone. How are we supposed to attract investors if we don’t know what’s going to happen?” he asks.
Since the UK voted in favor of Brexit against the wishes of Gibraltarians in 2016 – an overwhelming 95.91% of rock voters supported staying in the EU – the levels have gone through all the psychological stages of mourning: from initial shock to acceptance and learning. Also the relief and illusion with the New Year’s Eve deal of 2020. But two years later, with no final deal in sight, they had to get upset again in Gibraltar and its Spanish environs, fed up with this eternal impasse reality. “It’s tedious, but we’ve gotten used to it now,” says Salomon Massias, who, together with his brother Daniel, owns four Eroski franchise supermarkets in El Peñón.
Marlene Hassan-Nahon, opposition MP in Gibraltar and leader of the left-wing Together Gibraltar party, this Friday at Rock Marcos Moreno
In that time, The Rock have managed to avoid all the consequences of a wild Brexit, although they are already beginning to feel their exit from the EU in details such as the impossibility of getting groceries overland from the UK, as they exist no Border Inspection Post (PIF) in La Línea that checks the goods after they have passed through the Community territory. The only solution is to carry out this control at the PIF in the port of Algeciras, ship and arrive in Gibraltar by sea. “Now we bring fewer of these products, but culturally we need our tea and English biscuit. We can only invite every two weeks. You place an order and it takes 20 days to arrive, so the expiry date must be longer. The price has also gone up,” explains Massias.
All sources consulted in Gibraltar believe this is just a lesser evil to what could happen if the Plain Gate became a hard border with Spain. Therefore, there are those who resort to sheer pragmatism, as Marlene Hassan-Nahon, MP for Gibraltar and leader of the left-wing Together Gibraltar party, defends: “That we need to have a new infrastructure to be part of a Europe that will bring us prosperity I don’t think it will destroy our identity,” he says. In his television speech, Picardo seemed to be going in the same direction: “In the beginning, an agreement in some areas can be uncomfortable. Many changes are pending, if only because there are differences Likewise, joining the EU in 1972 may have been uncomfortable at first, but a no deal will also be very uncomfortable.
Hassan-Nahon read between the lines in Picardo’s words a certain preparation of citizens for the new game board: “He educates, reminds us that there will be things that we will have to bend down over and others that we will not bend over must.” he interprets. And despite the concern in Gibraltar about the silence of the negotiators, politicians believe that this is beneficial: “The fact that the details are completely protected is a sign that the negotiating teams are working seriously, honestly and in good faith.” He says . Although the left-wing leader does not miss the new temporary factor that has come into play in 2023, where both the current governments of Spain and Gibraltar will have to submit to elections with the month of December as the limit. “People’s feeling is that it will be easier to reach an agreement with the PSOE than with a possible PP government with Vox. We think they try to make agreements beforehand,” defends Daniel Massias. Time and negotiation skills will tell if the countdown finally ends with good news for some Gibraltarians who are as worried as they are excited about a reality that is not to come.
A police officer asked Marcos Moreno for the identity card of a motorist at the border with Gibraltar this Friday
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