THE UK’s only continental border is with the Southern Andalucian town of La Linea de la Concepcion, which developed as a dormitory town for Gibraltar and gained the Charter of a city in 1870.
La Linea is one of the places, like Gibraltar, where the theories and windy notions of Brexit become hard reality. Centuries before the founding fathers of the “European idea“, Adenauer, Monnet, Schuman et al were born, a relationship of good, if sometimes uneasy, neighbourliness grew on either side of the old battle line separating British from Spanish territory.
The Municipal Government of La Linea has just published a study on the impact for the City of Brexit.
With a population of 63,352 (more than double that of Gibraltar) it has the highest unemployment rate in Spain (35.33%); 10,000 of its citizens including non-Spaniards who live there, work in Gibraltar and bring home €97,500,000 a year. In other words it exists largely because of the economic engine of Gibraltar and, in turn Gibraltar’s economy depends on the free flow of people and goods via the border and to a great extent, the services provided by Linenses and other inhabitants of the Campo de Gibraltar.
According to the latest Fletcher Report commissioned in 2015 by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce Gibraltar imports goods and services from Spain to an annual value of £380,890,000.
Would anyone in their right mind want to prejudice this? Surely well-meaning politicians on all sides are working to improve relations……
The last time that Madrid played hardball with Gibraltar and closed the frontier in 1969, the Report says that 30,000 Linenses had to emigrate (many Gibraltarians also did). Even the then Francoist mayor openly called the closure “una barbaridad” (an act of barbarism). Interestingly when he was military Governor of the Campo de Gibraltar in the 1950s, General Muñoz Grandes had been careful to ensure that national Spanish policies did not damage the interests of working Spaniards and businesses. No one ever accused Muñoz Grandes of being unpatriotic – he was after all a veteran of the African wars and the commander in chief of the 20,000 Spanish volunteers who formed part of the German invading force of Russia as pay back for Russian support of the defeated Spanish Republic; he was one time vice-president to Franco. Still, in 1969 other less thoughtful people thought that it was acceptable to sacrifice the Campo de Gibraltar; and the rest, as they say, is history.
Post the Brexit referendum, Gibraltarians who voted massively to remain but are now realising that “Brexit means Brexit” (no hate mail please) and our neighbours in the La Linea are getting nervous. Until he was replaced as foreign minister last November Jose Garcia Margallo seemed to suggest that he would use Brexit to put pressure at what Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calls Gibraltar’s “choke point,” the frontier.
It is unclear whether there is still a Margallista strain in the Palacio de Santa Cruz or whether the new incumbent Don Alfonso María Dastis Quecedo, a career diplomat and lawyer (the latter always a good sign) from Jerez de la Frontera, will help revive the spirit of co-operation of the kind that former Gibraltar Chief Minister Sir Peter Caruana created together with then Foreign Ministers Miguel Angel Moratinos and David Milliband in the so-called Cordoba tri-lateral process.
To be able to weather Brexit seas all parties must resist nationalist clarion calls. Gibraltar too needs to take initiatives whether directly or via London. Two ideas immediately come to mind – the first is to agree freedom of movement of all Spaniards (and of course British residents in Spain) in Gibraltar and vice versa. Nothing new; in fact the status quo ante Brexit. In fact Fabian Picardo could lead the way and do this unilaterally by amendment to Gibraltarian legislation. Surely the UK would not object.
The second, given the security implications quite rightly addressed by the Schengen arrangements, is to facilitate co-operation between law enforcement agencies and the military on both sides of the frontier. The 92,000 strong Spanish Guardia Civil has thrown off historical baggage and is now very popular among Spaniards. On the whole, it is a thoroughly professional hugely motivated body – according to the Commissioner of the Royal Gibraltar Police Eddie Yome, security in the Bay of Gibraltar / Algeciras is maintained as a result of co-operation (not just with Spanish but also Moroccan law enforcement). It is in everyone’s interests that the police and military on all sides be allowed to create a safety zone where no vessel can go undetected and if necessary challenged in the Straits region. This can only be achieved without political interference and the implementation of a rational and respectful system of hot pursuit.
There will be many other areas including education and health as well, of course as trade.
Whether we like it or not Brexit invites us to be brave and initiative to ensure that the daily lives of people are not negatively affected but are in fact improved. We need to draw the line under the old and tired style of politics in our region.