Dr Joseph Garcia made his remarks during a speech in Brussels yesterday at the European Policy Centre before a high-profile audience of diplomats, EU representatives and others. And as well as taking a swipe at what he called the “bullying” attitude of the EU in the wake of Brexit, he also stressed the importance of never returning to a situation in which the Rock was cut off from the rest of the continent. Mr Garcia said: “It is difficult to imagine this but, as a child, growing up in Gibraltar I did so confined in a territory of less than 6 square kilometres, roughly the size of Brussels. Gibraltar was effectively isolated from mainland Europe.
Gibraltar became, to all intents and purposes, a city under siege
Dr Joseph Garcia
“Because, on 8 June 1969, just over 50 years ago, terrestrial links between Gibraltar and Spain were cut off by the then-dictator, General Franco.
“The border we are discussing today was physically shut. Gibraltar became, to all intents and purposes, a city under siege.”
As a result, families were “torn apart”, thousands of Spanish citizens could no longer access their jobs in Gibraltar, and no tourists were able to visit via land.
Dr Garcia said: “The blockade was absolute. In fact, Franco predicted that Gibraltar would ‘fall like a ripe fruit’. It was a prediction that never materialised.
“The people of Gibraltar faced up to the dictator and endured nearly 16 years locked up in a few square kilometres.”
Dr Garcia said he was recalling the past in order to illustrate the devastating impact closure of the border had had.
He added: “This cannot be allowed to happen ever again.”
In the intervening years, Gibraltar had developed its own relationship with the EU, partly because, without Spain and Portugal as members, “back then political Europe started at the Pyrenees”, Dr Garcia explained.
He added: “It was against this backdrop, that Gibraltar joined the then EEC alongside the UK with a sense of optimism and positivity. Without Spain in the club, the UK was free to negotiate a tailor made arrangement for Gibraltar.
“It is because of these arrangements that import/export procedures between Gibraltar and the EU have always been carried out as though Gibraltar were a third country.
“There have always been customs controls in force at the land border between Gibraltar and Spain. The issue in Gibraltar is not controls and checkpoints. These already exist.
“The issue is how the EU or Spain will exercise such controls at the end of the transition.
Franco died in 1975, and a decade later, Spain finally joined the bloc, with the condition that it reopened the border.
Dr Garcia said: “The most immediate positive effect of Spanish accession was that Spain had to fully reopen the land border as a prerequisite to joining.
“The rusty gates were unlocked and swung open in February 1985, ten years after General Franco had died. They had been shut for close to 16 years.”
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The result was a massive boost for the Rock, Dr Garcia said.
He explained: “With the opening of the border Gibraltar was once again able to regenerate its tourism industry. Once the border opened, Gibraltar was once again able to offer jobs, to thousands and thousands of citizens who live across the frontier in Spain.”
Unfortunately, grounds for optimism proved short-lived.
Dr Garcia said: “It became clear almost at once that instead of allowing political differences to dissolve, some in Madrid saw the EC as a means of advancing their sovereignty claim over Gibraltar.”
Despite the fact 96 percent of Gibraltarians voted Remain in the referendum, Dr Garcia said the Rock was left disappointed by the response from Brussels.
He said: “In the event, what happened was almost the reverse. The people of Gibraltar had good reason to be worried in 2016.
“Threats were made. First, that once Gibraltar left the European Union all options were open to Spain including closing the border completely.
“Second, that any relationship between Gibraltar and the EU had to come through shared sovereignty with Spain.”
There were those who advocated Spain adopting a “medieval approach” which “tramples over the right of the Gibraltarians to determine their own political future,” Dr Garcia warned.
The EU’s “bullying” Gibraltar “did nothing to build confidence, trust or goodwill”, he added.
He concluded: “We need to genuinely seize this moment to obliterate the politics of the past. But the mind-set must move from the negative to the positive.
“Away from talk of vetoes and of exclusions. Because citizens want to hear solutions and not threats.”
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