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Chief minister of Gibraltar pays first official visit to La Línea, with Brexit on the agenda

Fabian Picardo and Juan Franco, among others, in La Línea.
Fabian Picardo and Juan Franco, among others, in La Línea. / EFE
  • The discussions between Fabian Picardo and Juan Franco also included fishing and collaboration in the fields of culture and sport

Chief minister Fabian Picardo paid his first official visit to La Línea on Thursday morning, for discussions with the mayor of the Spanish town, Juan Franco. Picardo, who was accompanied by Gibraltar's deputy chief minister Dr Joseph Garcia, also signed the town's 'Book of Honour' before joining the mayor and members of La Línea council for lunch.

During the visit Picardo called for a special fiscal regime for La Línea, above all to enable the town to host the online gaming firms that could abandon the Rock after Brexit.

This was not the first time the two men had met. Juan Franco has visited the chief minister in Gibraltar in the past and has spoken about the cordial relationship between them, but it was the first time Picardo had been invited to La Línea town hall.

At their meeting, they discussed the situation on both sides of the border regarding Britain's withdrawal from the EU, which is a matter of especial concern to the Campo de Gibraltar region, problems associated with fishing and collaboration between Gibraltar and La Línea in the fields of culture and sport.

Background

It is well-known that there are differences and sometimes tension between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar. Spain, which ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, has made no secret of its wish to regain the British Overseas Territory. The Gibraltarians, however, voted overwhelmingly to remain British in two referendums, and there is a double lock sovereignty commitment by the UK, under which it will not enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes, nor will Britain enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. Some feel that Spain is using Brexit as a lever to further its claim over Gibraltar, with demands such as joint control of, and the presence of Spanish police at, the airport.

That tension, though, is rarely sensed on the ground in the Campo de Gibraltar, the region of Spain closest to the Rock. Gibraltar, as a whole, is the second largest employer for Andalucía, after the regional government, and thousands of Spanish from the area cross the border to work. Brexit therefore poses potential problems with regard to the border, which needs to be free-flowing, and it could also have a hugely negative impact for the local Spanish economy.