A deal to guarantee security, prosperity and political stability
In my opinion
by Neil Costa
At the outset, and in the context of the inprinciple agreement reached in relation to Gibraltar, various facts that have led us to this point bear repeating.

Firstly, it cannot be forgotten that as a community, we voted overwhelmingly on 23 June 2016 for the UK and, therefore, Gibraltar to remain in the European Union. Secondly, it is important to recall that on 24 December just passed, the UK Government, which was willing to leave the EU without a deal, and comprising the self-same party that had decided to hold the referendum on EU membership for their own internal partisan reasons (I will resist the almost irresistible temptation to say more on this subject), settled an agreement for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU that expressly excluded Gibraltar.

These were the facts until our Chief Minister announced that an in-principle agreement had been struck on 31 December 2020. Let’s be clear - until that point, we all faced the possibility of starting the New Year out in the cold, alone in our non-relations with the EU in general and Spain in particular, and with the very hardest Brexit that 96% of our dear brothers and sisters had resoundingly rejected in the referendum. As we would say, sin comerlo, ni beberlo.

Given the two starkly different realities that we all faced on New Year’s Day, it would be remiss not to heartily congratulate our Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister, and their team for their formidable diplomatic endeavours and their decidedly excellent achievement in statecraft in arriving at the in-principle agreement that prevented the sudden and brusque landing of an unknown future.

Let’s be clear again - whilst there is no doubt in my mind that our community would have survived, as it always has irrespective of the challenges that we face, no one could have seriously wanted a hard Brexit and the uncertainty that such an eventuality would bring to our security, economic prosperity, quality of life, and political stability. As I have said many times inside and outside of the Gibraltar Parliament, and for all of the reasons that I have previously articulated, it is hard to exaggerate how lucky we are to belong to a community such as ours.

In terms of the in-principle agreement, I start by highlighting what the Chief Minister has now repeated in crystal clear terms on various occasions, that entry into Gibraltar is a matter solely and exclusively for Gibraltar and her competent authorities. As I understand the in-principle agreement, Spain has proposed to the European Commission to extend the application of the Schengen acquis to Gibraltar, which would allow for unrestricted mobility of persons across our present border with Spain. Spain, as the neighbouring Schengen member state of the EU with access to the Schengen security databases, would be responsible for implementing Schengen albeit through the use of Frontex agents, ensuring compliance with the rules and requirements of the Schengen zone at Gibraltar’s entry points.

Let’s be clear - for a third time - that whether the EU permits our own Borders and Coastguards agents to carry out the Schengen security checks or not, whether in four years or at any point, is not a matter on which Gibraltar, or the UK Government on behalf of Gibraltar, can insist as we are out of the EU. The UK has relinquished that right as a necessary consequence of leaving the EU. As an interesting aside, Gibraltar, through the Borders and Coastguard Agency, would continue to apply her own security checks through the UK and Interpol databases so that Gibraltar’s borders could hypothetically be strengthened by the addition of the access to Schengen security resources.

It is important to note that, at this stage, any information on the future treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union in relation to Gibraltar cannot be in the public domain as this is the very document that the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister, and their team will now seek to elaborate and settle; that any settlement will take the form of an international treaty, and not the form of a mere agreement, is hugely significant to maximise the future-proofing of our rights.

As the old adage goes, and much repeated of late in relation to this subject, the devil will be in the detail, and whether or not the draft, once ready, ensures that none of Gibraltar’s red lines will be crossed is a matter for another day and not something that we can know today.

What I do know is that I have shared hundreds of meetings with the Ministers comprising the team that led these negotiations, and with the members of Cabinet that, I understand from Sir Joe Bossano, have agreed with every step in the negotiation process, and, therefore, without the shadow of any doubt whatever, I can confidently say that there is not one person amongst them who would surrender an inch of Gibraltar’s sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control.

As my dear friend Sir Joe Bossano would say, not a grain of sand, drop of water, or molecule of air.

I trust that this governmental team will spare no effort to deliver the deal that will not only guarantee our security, economic prosperity, quality of life, and political stability but that will not relinquish any part of our Gibraltar. As Sir Peter himself has said, let’s give them the ‘time and the opportunity’ to succeed.

Neil Costa is a barrister and a former minister in the GSLP/ Liberal government.