Deal or No Deal?
Credit to the Gibraltar Chronicle today for the Gib Gov’s no deal brexit planning:
For months behind the scenes, teams of civil servants have worked to prepare Gibraltar for a hard Brexit. From stockpiling medicines to planning how to manage logjams at the border and ensure supply chain continuity, a Brexit taskforce has meticulously identified and unpicked the risks for different sectors of the economy, putting in measures to mitigate the impact of leaving the EU without a deal.
Now, after criticism from the Opposition about the need for more information about what steps have been taken, the government has lifted the lid – a little, at least – on the scale and depth of its planning.
Details of the preparations were disclosed publicly yesterday during a briefing to the media by Dr Joseph Garcia and Ivor Lopez, the Gibraltar Government’s Civil Contingencies Coordinator.
“The departure of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar from the European Union will bring with it a number of challenges,” Dr Garcia said.
“But it must be understood that once we are no longer part of the club, we will be subject to a new regime where things are done differently.”
“This will affect citizens and businesses.”
“The UK and Gibraltar Government are working closely together in order to mitigate the impact of these changes.”
“However, it needs to be understood that those changes will come upon exit.”
No-deal planning has been placed within the government’s civil contingency structure, ensuring deep “military-type” coordination across government departments and other agencies that are already accustomed to working in unison toward a single goal.
Much of the planning is highly-technical and focused on six separate sectors, including commerce; critical services; health and social care; law and order; public service; and supply chain management.
At the top of the organisational structure is the Brexit Strategic Group, chaired by Dr Garcia and bringing together senior officials.
Beneath that sits the Brexit Executive Group, which is chaired by the Chief Secretary, Darren Grech, and includes senior officials from across the public sector.
Beneath that group sit six working groups dealing with each of the separate sectors.
All the preparations and latest developments are set out in a shared document that is updated at least weekly but which, during peak periods, could be updated daily. This is an iterative document covering all areas of no-deal planning.
Each department has also prepared scores of Risk Assessment Forms, in which risks are identified and laid out in detail so that measures can be taken to assess them.
One example: border delays could lead to problems with staff in essential areas such as care. In response, measures have been taken to stagger shift patterns and ensure workers have a place to stay should it become necessary.
Officials have worked too with the private sector to pinpoint weak points and address them, including running detailed desktop exercises to test responses.
The aim across the board is to ensure Gibraltar is able to swiftly respond to challenges – some foreseeable, others inevitably unpredictable – that could arise in the event the UK crashes out of the EU, taking Gibraltar with it.
Already specific action has been taken on critical aspects, including:
– Planning to deal with border delays and any knock-on impact on congestion;
– Ferry contingency planning. A ferry has already been contracted to operate a triangular route between Gibraltar, Algeciras and Tangier, enabling importers to use a Border Inspection Post in Algeciras should that be necessary for certain goods;
– Port infrastructure works related to the ferry will be completed by October 31;
– Different options have been identified to handle waste should this become necessary, including shredding and packing it here and exporting it by sea;
– Departmental funding to enable stockpiling of vital goods. In health, for example, several months’ worth of medicines and general stores have been “frontloaded” and stored, a containerised plant to supply oxygen has been installed, as has a new blood production system to manufacture frozen platelets and a freezer unit to store the product.
Part of the challenge for the government and its teams has been the ever-changing Brexit landscape. In effect, officials are preparing for something which is riddled with uncertainty at every level and which, ultimately, may not even happen.
The work was ramped up at the beginning of the year and then scaled back when the first Brexit deadline was extended to October 31. Now, with just weeks to go, the preparations are intensifying once again.
Gibraltar’s readiness for a hard Brexit has been the subject of intense political exchanges here following the publication of a leaked document setting out the UK’s preparations.
The leaked Yellowhammer report included claims that Gibraltar was under-prepared for a no-deal Brexit and could face disruption to border fluidity and the supply of goods.
The document was dated August but the Gibraltar Government said the information on Gibraltar, which was based assumptions of “a reasonable worst-case scenario” provided by Gibraltar itself, was out of date.
Until now, however, the Gibraltar Government has kept a very tight lid on its preparations, elements of which are described as highly-sensitive.
Publicly identifying the main risks to Gibraltar outside the EU would have provided a road-map for this community’s weak points, one that could be exploited in negotiations about the Rock’s future outside the bloc.
Additionally, against the fast-changing backdrop of political upheaval in the UK, there was concern about how much information to release, and when.
The Opposition has been sternly critical of the government’s stance, complaining that it has had no involvement in any of the substantive preparations for Brexit. The GSD said it was ready to work in unity with the government, urging Chief Minister Fabian Picardo to abandon his “partisan and arrogant approach” to Brexit and the threat it presents to this community.
Together Gibraltar has also described the government’s response to concerns raised by many in the community as “inadequate and evasive”.
But the opposition’s criticism has rankled with the government because while the planning has been discrete, details have been shared not just with private sector companies and their representative bodies, but also with MPs on the Brexit select committee.
“The Government has a duty to release public information in a way that does not cause alarm or panic to the general population,” said Dr Garcia, who has led on the preparations.
“The message is to prepare and not to panic.”
The government has so far issued 23 technical notices on issues directly relevant to individuals ahead of Brexit, including advice on passports, driving licences and the provision of healthcare in the EU after Brexit.
Dr Garcia said the information campaign to date has been effective. By way of example, he said around 4,000 international driving permits had been issued following the government’s advice.
But the information campaign will now be stepped up in the coming weeks, including media advertising and the distribution of a Brexit booklet to all households in Gibraltar, setting out the National Readiness Action Plan.
Additionally, a Brexit information office will be opened on Main Street, in the old Lloyd’s Bank building, on October 1, offering a single point where citizens can go for advice.