GIBRALTAR’s economy is “literally under threat” from Brexit, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said.
The status of the enclave on the southern coast of Spain has been thrust to the forefront of the negotiations after draft guidelines were published by the EU following the triggering of Article 50 on Wednesday of last week (News, 31 March).
The guidelines suggested that decisions about the future of Gibraltar post-Brexit would need to be agreed with the Spanish government.
Dr Innes, whose cathedral sits on the Rock, told BBC local radio that he was very concerned about what would happen to Gibraltar. “The economy and living conditions of Gibraltar are literally under threat. Gibraltarians see themselves as British and European; so Brexit threatens something at a deep level with them.
“They are very fearful of Brexit leading to problems with the border through which come nearly all their fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as the daily traffic of 10,000 migrant workers.”
In response to the EU’s draft negotiating position, the former Conservative leader Lord Howard said on Sunday that the present Prime Minister would show “the same resolve” over Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher had shown over the Falkland Islands.
Liberal Democrats suggested that Lord Howard was “sabre-rattling”. Labour called the remarks “inflammatory”.
Mrs May, however, has attempted to laugh off the row, saying that, while she was “steadfastly committed” to the Rock, she would choose “jaw jaw” over “war war”.
While it was clear that Gibraltarians wished to remain British, Dr Innes said, there had previously been healthy relations between the enclave’s government, the UK, and Spain. Indeed, the EU had significantly reduced tension over Gibraltar through its open borders, in the same way that having no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had contributed to peace.
“The EU, with its open borders, made all those relations easier. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU reopens old wounds, I’m afraid,” Dr Innes said.
His suffragan, the Rt Revd David Hamid, has written in support to the Dean of Gibraltar, the Very Revd Dr John Paddock: Gibraltarians were right to be alarmed by being dragged into the Brexit talks, he wrote.
“Now, after all the debates, assurances and speculation of the past months, it is Gibraltar which is named as the first possible direct victim of the Brexit decision. I can only imagine the turmoil and even anger you must feel,” Bishop Hamid went on.
“We pray ever more earnestly for our politicians and diplomats, that God will enlighten them with wisdom and patience in their dealings with Brussels and Madrid, and that they will guarantee and defend the future and the well-being of Gibraltarians in the upcoming negotiations.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, is also backing Gibraltar. During a debate in the House of Lords, he urged the Government to “stress-test” every possible Brexit outcome, and said that the UK “owes it” to the people living on the Rock to prepare properly.
“What if Spain wants to use sovereignty or cross-border access and frontier issues as a bargaining chip? We cannot simply stand there and say ‘Well, you can’t,’” he said. “Where is the realism that comes from looking through the eyes of those who do not hold the best interests of the UK as their priority?”