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GIBRALTAR

Brexit: Gibraltar says it won’t cede sovereignty to ‘predator’ Spain

The head of the tiny British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which is hugely dependent on a free-flowing border with Spain, has accused Madrid of acting like a "predator" by trying to exploit Brexit.

Brexit: Gibraltar says it won't cede sovereignty to 'predator' Spain
Photo: 1Tomm/Depositphotos

In an interview with AFP in London, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo dismissed Spain's offer of joint sovereignty as a way of keeping the pro-EU peninsula within the European Union.

But he did not rule out having an associate status with the EU once Britain leaves the bloc, in order to keep things moving at the border — something critical for Gibraltar's economy.

Though Spanish politicians described joint sovereignty as a generous offer, “this is the generosity of a predator that thinks that its prey is now ready to surrender”, Picardo said.

“It's not generous to tell someone to surrender the thing that is most valuable to them at the time you think they may be in need of your assistance.”

Picardo was in London this week to face questions from the British parliamentary committee scrutinising the Brexit process.

The 44-year-old also attended the presentation of a report about the impact Brexit will have on the “Rock”, as the territory is nicknamed after its 426 metre (1,398-feet) high limestone ridge.

Daily Spanish influx

The seven square-kilometre peninsula on the tip of Spain's south coast, home to 33,000 people, was ceded by Spain to Britain in 1713 in perpetuity.

Spain, which maintains its sovereignty claim, shut its border gates with Gibraltar in 1969.

It fully reopened them in 1985 ahead of Spain joining the European Economic Community, the EU's predecessor, the following year.

Gibraltar's thriving services-based economy, which hosts several big insurance and online betting firms, relies in large part on access to the EU's single market.

It also depends heavily upon the 10,000-strong mostly Spanish workforce coming through the sole crossing on the 1.2-kilometre border.

Many come from the neighbouring Campo de Gibraltar area of Andalusia, where unemployment is high.

Gibraltar accounts for 25 percent of the Campo's gross domestic product and is the “second biggest employer in Andalusia after the regional government”, Picardo said.

For this reason, he believes Spain would not want to see Gibraltar damaged by Brexit, and would also not want to re-close the border.

“I don't think that there is anyone as stupid in Spain as to try that tactic again,” he said.

When the late dictator Francisco Franco shut the gates, “Gibraltar got stronger and more British in the process”.

Still, in the June referendum, 96 percent of voters in Gibraltar wanted Britain to remain in the EU.

Monaco-style deal?

From Gibraltar's current relationship with the EU, Picardo now wants to retain access to the British market and UK services, freedom of movement across the EU, “frontier fluidity” with Spain, and access to the European single market, if Britain has it.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May says she wants to pull out of the single market and most of the customs union arrangements in order to control immigration, then negotiate a new free trade agreement with the EU.

“One of the possibilities as we explore the future is that we might have an associate-style status with the EU, simply because that is how the EU treats other microstates like the Vatican City, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco,” said Picardo.

Those tiny nations have “different degrees of participation with the EU”, he explained.

He noted that they are not technically within the Schengen open borders area, but are treated as if they were. Some are also in the customs union and others not.

In any case, despite the Brexit referendum outcome, staying British remains the red line for the fiercely loyal Gibraltarians.

“Exclusive British sovereignty over Gibraltar is a sine qua non,” Picardo said.

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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