Historic and “positive” meeting with the Junta's president

Susana Díaz and Fabian Picardo.
Susana Díaz and Fabian Picardo. / EFE
  • The chief minister and Susana Díaz discussed ways of working together to minimise the effects of Brexit on both sides of the border

Big smiles, and a new political friendship: that was the result of the first meeting ever to have been held between a chief minister of Gibraltar and a president of the Junta de Andalucía at the Palacio de San Telmo, the seat of the regional government in Seville, which took place yesterday morning.

Ironically it was Brexit, the UK's decision to leave the European Union, and its potential impact on Gibraltar and the nearby area of Spain, which brought chief minister Fabian Picardo and Susana Díaz, the president of the Andalusian government, together for discussions.

Also present at the meeting, which lasted almost an hour, were the deputy chief minister of Gibraltar, Dr Joseph Garcia, who holds the Brexit portfolio, and Attorney General Michael Llamas. The vice-president of the Junta de Andalucía, Manuel Jiménez Barrios, also took part.

Afterwards, the Gibraltar government issued a press release describing the meeting as “positive and constructive”.

Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly and with a massive turnout for the UK to remain part of the EU, and the authorities on the Rock and in Seville are both concerned about the possible negative effects of Brexit on both sides of the border.

During the meeting, both parties expressed their determination to make sure that residents and workers are no worse off as a consequence of the UK and Gibraltar leaving the European Union.

The figures speak for themselves. The chief minister explained that the latest figures available to the Gibraltar government showed that over 13,000 people now live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, 8,167 of whom are Spanish. Many of these jobs depend on the continued fluid flow of people through the land frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.

Mr Picardo also referred to the fact that an economic study carried out by the Chamber of Commerce in 2013 showed that Gibraltar businesses purchased 450 million euros worth of items from Spanish suppliers, mainly in Andalucia, and that it was estimated that Gibraltar residents spent some 80 million euros in the surrounding Spanish region, of which 50 million remain in the Campo de Gibraltar area.

The two sides agreed to work together in order to ensure that Brexit, despite it not being the choice of the people of Gibraltar, generated opportunities for shared prosperity for all.

Both leaders agreed that, as Susana Díaz has already stressed to the Spanish government, as Andalucía is the only place on the European continent with a natural land border with the UK, the region should be given special consideration in the bilateral agreements between the EU and Britain, and between Britain and Spain.

Logically, this should entail making sure that the border remains open for workers and residents of Andalucía and Gibraltar once the UK is no longer part of the EU.

After Thursday's meeting, Mr Picardo said: “This historic first contact at San Telmo has been a positive and constructive one. I believe it is a precursor to potentially working together to ensure the continued economic well-being of the people we each represent and in respect of those areas in which both governments have relevant competence.”

He also described Susana Díaz as a “new political friend”. In fact, the two leaders already had something in common even before the threat of Brexit brought them together: they are both socialists. The president of the Andalusian goverment is a member of PSOE, and Gibraltar's chief minister is the leader of the GSLP, the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party.

The Junta de Andalucía wishes to make it clear that it notified the Spanish government in advance that this meeting would take place, and that it will be providing Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis with a full report on what was agreed.