THE economic impact of the Gibraltar dispute is ‘far more shocking’ than the border crossing issues, insists MEP candidate James Cracknell.
The political hopeful – who won Olympic gold for Great Britain – said he was astounded by the effect the dispute has had on local businesses and has vowed to fight their corner should he be elected to represent the Rock in the European parliament next May.
He told the Olive Press: “I have spoken to taxi drivers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs and they have all been hit by falling business since the fracas began in the summer.
“One shop owner told me his footfall had dropped 25% over the past four months. That is shocking, it’s simply not sustainable.”
The rowing medallist, 41, is currently on a three-day tour of the territory, which is part of the South West constituency he is standing to represent as a Conservative MEP.
“I wanted to come over and meet the people of Gibraltar so I can look them in the eye and tell them I understand their concerns, and I know what is happening on the ground here.
“I honestly expected the furore to centre on the border queues, and while this is of course a huge source of discontent there’s so much more to it than that.”
Speaking over coffee at the Rock Hotel, he said Gib was an easy target, and that to an extent it was ‘obvious’ Spain was creating the trouble to detract from its own political problems.
But he also warned that while the British government should take action, it shouldn’t make moves just for the sake of it.
“There needs to be talks at the right level. While it’s important not to be seen to be taken advantage of, it’s equally important not to take childish, or overblown action. I know UK politicians are very sympathetic to the plight of the Gibraltarians.”
He also suggested the Spanish government needs to be aware of how damaging its actions are for its own people.
“Gibraltar breathes life into the surrounding Spanish towns, and provides employment for more than 8000 Spaniards.
“To subject them to two or three hour commutes each and every day is appalling. Without Gibraltar places like La Linea simply couldn’t survive.”
Cracknell, who is making the move into politics so he can fight for the causes about which he is passionate, said he was further galvanized by the people of Gibraltar.
“They are so enthusiastic, and politically-minded. I’ve not had a conversation yet which hasn’t quickly turned to politics.
And it’s not just a result of the current tension. Election turnout here far outstrips that of any other UK constituency. Gibraltarians really are an inspiration.”