Gibraltar & Brexit

Today the British government officially gives notice of the UK’s desire to withdraw from the European Union: the much-famed triggering of Article 50. The difficulties of negotiating the interests of the whole United Kingdom with the remaining 27 member states will soon become apparent, and there are many questions that need answering. I recently wrote about how lots of people in the congregations of our diocese felt that their lives were in limbo – click here. Many concerns have been thrown up by the Brexit vote, and some of these come into sharpest focus in regard to the future status of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar holds special significance for our diocese. It is the location of our Cathedral church which has an historic importance, not just to the people of Gibraltar, but to the Diocese in Europe and the Church of England more generally. As Anglicans, we are a minority faith in Gibraltar, but we contribute actively to the diversity and tolerance that characterises social life on the Rock.

Gibraltar Cathedral

The House of Lords EU Committee of the UK Parliament recently produced a report, entitled ‘Brexit: Gibraltar’, which can be found here. It sets out well the issues facing Gibraltarians, and I recommend reading it. A debate took place, following its publication, in which Bishop Nick Baines asked whether the Government were stress testing the outcomes of leaving the European Union on Gibraltar. His questions can be found here.

The report points out that in the referendum 95.9% of the votes cast in Gibraltar were remain votes, making it by far the strongest vote for remain of any area eligible to vote. Of course, despite this, Gibraltar must leave the EU along with the UK, though probably with even greater impact.

Access to the EU Single Market has given essential underpinning to Gibraltar’s service-based economy. Currently, 10,473 jobs in Gibraltar are held by frontier workers crossing daily into Gibraltar from neighbouring areas of Spain. Those workers represent 40% of the entire workforce. Loss of access to the Single Market and hardening of the border threatens significantly to harm Gibraltar’s economy – with a corresponding effect on the neighbouring region of Spain.

Gibraltar’s frontier crossing

In terms of tourism, 93% of visitors arrive across the road border. The Government of Gibraltar has called the frontier “a vital artery of Gibraltar’s tourism sector.” Restrictions on border crossings will significantly affect this industry.

Gibraltar is a leading ‘bunker’ port (a port which resupplies ships with fuel). This depends on its status within the EU but outside the EU’s VAT jurisdiction, enabling it to offer low-cost, VAT-free fuel. 30% of Gibraltar’s bunker fuel is currently stored in Algeciras, Spain. Uncertainty over movement of labour and provisions would make Gibraltar less attractive to visiting ships and jeopardise its refuelling business.

The UK and Gibraltarian governments will have to face many difficult issues when Britain leaves the EU. The outcomes will, in the words of Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, rely on the “good will and good faith” between Gibraltar and Spain. Whether Spain feels inclined to show that goodwill once its neighbour is no longer an EU member is an open question. It is in both parties’ interests to cooperate, but that is not necessarily how politics works.

Aerial view of Gibraltar

Everything that applies to the UK post-Brexit applies with a vengeance in Gibraltar. An already strained border with Spain will now also become a hard border between the EU/Schengen zone and Gibraltar. The effect on the thousands who cross both ways daily for work will be enormous. The potential for Spanish political annoyance will be increased. The casual day trip tourism from Spain into Gibraltar will shrink, affecting business. The importing of fresh produce and essential supplies will be affected – there is virtually no agriculture on the rock. When winds prevent the landing of planes in Gibraltar, as they frequently do, the normal diversion to Malaga may be much more complicated logistically.

I am not suggesting that Gibraltar will come under effective siege as a result of leaving the EU. But it is the belief of many Gibraltarians that their way of life will be significantly changed for the worse. The essentials of life, such as importing fresh produce, may become areas of harsh negotiation. Beyond the politics and economics, the EU is important to many in Gibraltar because it is viewed as a means for people to learn to live together, valuing diversity and creating a peaceful and tolerant society. There are important questions of identity here for people who see themselves as Gibraltarian, British and European.

Gibraltarians are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of Brexit and they are having to leave the EU almost entirely against their will. There is, therefore, an especial moral responsibility on the UK Government for their financial and social wellbeing over the next several years.

On the Road Again… A Visit to Holy Trinity Utrecht

There has been an English chaplaincy in Utrecht in one form or another since at least the 17th century. The present church building was consecrated in 1913. It is cosy, traditional in style and frequently packed.

Utrecht is, at least as far as the railway is concerned, at the centre of the Netherlands. Holy Trinity Utrecht is likewise at the centre of Anglican ministry to a big area that includes Zwolle, Arnhem and Groningen. The congregation of All Saints Amersfoort was planted from Utrecht 18 months ago. It is now a big church in its own right. What’s more, Holy Trinity Utrecht has now attracted more families to replace those lost to the new church plant. So it is, again, full to capacity!

The spirituality of Holy Trinity Utrecht is unique in our diocese. The building is owned by ICS. The regular worship style tends towards traditional, catholic. The congregation is largely or mainly Dutch by nationality.

Under The Reverend David Phillips, the church has succeeded to a large degree in integrating regular Anglicans with a large number of the Catholic Apostolic Community. The notice sheet testifies to a church brimming with life: an active student ministry, film nights, various Bible study groups, a range of mission commitments. Chatting to people over coffee, the congregation was evidently thrilled at the way the church was growing spiritually and numerically.

I spent a weekend with the people of Utrecht and its plant in Amersfoort. This included a long and fruitful meeting with its joint church council. A good number of the council members are not from an Anglican background, so I took the opportunity to explain the nature of Anglican governance, and the role of the council, churchwardens and chaplain. The church had arranged this meeting over supper in a business suite at a hotel, so our discussion was focused and productive.

All Saints Amersfoort currently meets in a large and attractive modern Roman Catholic building. Unfortunately, this building has been sold to a developer. So the community is searching for a new home. They are looking to lease or buy the right kind of space. The Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands is (sadly) closing churches at a rapid rate. But the task for All Saints is to find a suitable building, with ancillary rooms, which is not being marketed for commercial development.

I presided at a Confirmation service in All Saints on Saturday afternoon. Worship was led by a big choir with trumpet. I reflected that there are few churches where one would get a big congregation for a confirmation service on a Saturday.

Confirmation candidates Caroline, Dorienke, William and Johannes in the building currently used by All Saints Amersfoort

On Sunday I presided at the 09:00 and 10:30 services at Holy Trinity Utrecht. The 09:00 service was eastward facing, with a traditional BCP-based liturgy, and in Dutch. One young woman in the congregation remarked that it was odd for an English bishop to speak Dutch with a French accent. As a resident of Belgium, I took this is a compliment. The 10:30 choral communion was a modern liturgy, westward facing – and in English.

After church, it was just about warm enough to have coffee in the garden. The spring flowers were at their best.

David Phillips (Utrecht) and Grant Crowe (Amersfoort) are a talented pair of priests. They have significant responsibility for leading and guiding their lively, all-age congregations. In the case of Amersfoort, there are some important challenges ahead. I felt privileged to have shared their congregational life for a weekend. The churches certainly gave Helen and I a generous, friendly and hospitable welcome.

Visiting Voorschoten

St. James, Voorschoten was founded nearly 40 years ago, as a plant from St. John and St. Philip, the Hague. It is led by Ruan Crew, their much-loved chaplain. Ruan is married to Lisette, and they have three teenage/pre-teen children, Emily, Hannah and Tim.

St. James serves the communities in and around the prosperous and delightful towns of Wassenaar and Leiden as well as Voorschoten itself. Cycleways, parks and daffodil-clad waterways abound. The main international employers in the area are Royal Dutch Shell, the European Patent Office and the European Space Agency. Consequently, a good proportion of the congregation are highly qualified engineers and scientists.

We travelled 90 minutes by Thalys from Brussels to the Netherlands’ ultra-modern Schiphol transport hub and from there by car to Voorschoten. I met first with the six younger candidates for confirmation: Manon, Robyn, Jennifer, Ann, Daniel and Elliana. They had been following a youth alpha course led by St. James’s youth pastor, Adam. To complement this, I was happy to share with them some more specifically churchy material, such as the nature of Anglicanism and the place of sacraments in our worshipping life.

I then met with the four adult candidates: Fredrik, Liesbeth, Iris and Sarah. Fredrik and Liesbeth are ‘old’ members of St James, now worshipping at the 4,000 strong St. George’s Singapore, who had returned to their home church to be confirmed. Sarah is a student at York University. Iris is a local Dutch lady, who had come to a living faith at the Holy Spirit day of an alpha course that she dropped in on in an Anglican Church in New Zealand. In addition to her confirmation, she is celebrating her marriage at St. James in three weeks’ time, so it’s a very special time for her.

Lisette prepared an excellent supper for the church council in the evening. Over forkfuls of chicken, I had a particularly stimulating discussion with a physicist about reasons for the existence of God, the anthropic principle and the problem of suffering. It is not everywhere one gets this level of intellectual engagement with faith! We talked later in the evening about the challenges facing the congregation. How better to connect with the 10,000 English speakers in the area? How to meet administrative demands in a congregation where everyone is so busy with their work and families, and there are few retired folk? And specifically: how to find a new churchwarden in time for the annual meeting in just two weeks’ time!

The confirmation service the next morning was a joy. St. James meets in the main hall of ‘The British School in the Netherlands’.

In this kind of environment, ‘set-up’ is a weekly necessity, so for an hour before the service teams of people work hard putting out chairs, setting and testing P.A. equipment and arranging all the furniture at the front. This is at the same time as the music group is having a final rehearsal. So there’s plenty going on. Creating an appropriate atmosphere in this kind of setting can be a challenge, and St. James do a particularly good job in getting this right.

Our service order was an especially fine example of the genre, enhanced by colour photos and brief biopics of all the candidates. 170 people attended. With two candidates for baptism and 10 for confirmation there was plenty to celebrate. There was a bumper collection for the diocesan ordination candidates fund. And at the end of the service, each candidate was given a rather fine in-house candle and a Bible. The service was followed by a bring ‘n’ share lunch in the lovely school atrium.

This was my second confirmation service at St. James Voorschoten. It is a highly talented community, with a strong degree of care and fellowship amongst its members. Its financial model is strong. It has real potential for further growth. It certainly has all the elements of a healthy and spiritually dynamic community.

The newly confirmed: Daniel, Robyn, Jennifer, Sarah, Elliana, Iris, Manon, Liesbeth, Fredrik, Ann

‘Unity in Diversity’? Maybe not when it comes to religion.

I am dismayed by a recent EU Court of Justice ruling that could have far reaching consequences for freedom of religious expression. The story goes like this.

National courts in France and Belgium recently used a special procedure to suspend consideration of two cases. The cases involved Muslim women dismissed from their employment for refusing to remove their headscarves at work. The national courts used the special procedure so they could get the cases referred to the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg for an interpretative ruling. The EU Court was being asked to determine whether the women’s dismissals constituted discrimination within the meaning of the EU Employment Equality Directive 2000.

The Court determined that an entity’s internal rule prohibiting the visible wearing of a political, philosophical or religious symbol does not constitute direct discrimination.[1] It added that national courts should consider the evidence of the specific cases. National courts should decide whether the entity’s rule might lead to indirect discrimination by putting persons of a particular religion or belief at a specific disadvantage. The national court should judge on that basis. But the EU Court’s ruling seems to remove the right of appeal to Europe if someone feels they have been subject to discrimination on grounds of wearing religious symbols or dress.

European Court of Justice, Luxembourg

I am disappointed and concerned by this ruling from the Court in Luxembourg. Far from upholding the EU’s famous slogan of ‘unity in diversity’, it seems to be allowing private employers to be intolerant of diversity. It is particularly surprising in view of a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg made against British Airways. You may remember when BA sought to prevent a Christian stewardess from wearing a cross visible over her uniform. Back then, the Strasbourg judges stated that BA’s refusal to allow Mrs Eweida to visibly wear her cross:

amounted to an interference with her right to manifest her religion…this is a fundamental right because a democratic society needs to tolerate and sustain pluralism and diversity; but also because of the value to an individual who has made religion a central tenet of his or her life to be able to communicate that belief to others.[2]’ 

Previous Strasbourg court rulings have only permitted the banning of religious symbols or clothing on grounds of health and safety or in the public services of constitutionally secular states.

Mrs Eweida appealed against BA to Strasbourg

Dealing with difference within civil society is currently a critical issue across Europe. As Anglicans, we have a long history of tolerating difference. The suppression of freedom of expression, by trying to make difference invisible, will only stoke the fires of extremism. Recently, my Attaché attended a seminar that explored research into how young Belgians are lured into joining jihadist movements. Perceived discrimination in finding a job, including the experience of employers who won’t take anyone wearing a headscarf, was one significant factor. A leading member of the British Conservative group in the European Parliament (Sajjad Karim MEP) put it this way:

Today’s ruling in effect means Muslim women and people from other religious groups have to choose between their fundamental right to religious expression and access to the labour market. This is unacceptable and will only isolate people with religious convictions who wish to express their belief.

Britain has had a long and exemplary history of pioneering the principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ in matters of religious dress. For instance, Sikhs have been allowed to wear turbans as part of their army uniforms. Britain has even allowed turbans instead of crash helmets on a motor bike. But sadly, in the Eweida case, the British Government tried to argue that loss of employment did not constitute a denial of rights, because the plaintiff could always seek other employment. They said:

The fact that these applicants were free to resign and seek employment elsewhere, or to practise their religion outside work, was sufficient to guarantee their Article 9 rights under domestic law.’

The judges in Strasbourg rightly saw through that and ruled in Eweida’s favour. It is a shame that the EU judges in Luxembourg have not seen fit to come to the same conclusion for these two Muslim women. There remains the possibility for the national courts to rule in their favour on the basis of indirect discrimination. But an important principle has been conceded. Freedom of religious expression is a precious right, and it is sad to see it eroded.

[1] Judgment on ECJ cases C-157/15 & C-188/15 – 14.03.2017

[2] ECtHR judgment on application no. 4820/10 (Eweida v. the UK) 15.01.2013

Lives in Limbo

Below are my thoughts, published today on the ‘Reimagining Europe’ website, about the rights of EU citizens not resident in their own country:

Around 3.2 million people living in the UK in 2015 were citizens of another EU country. That’s around 5% of the population. On the other hand, around 1.2 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries. Most of them live in Spain (310,000), Ireland (250,000) and France (190,000). You can find the figures here. So current parliamentary debates around ‘the rights of EU citizens not resident in their own country’ affect a very large number of us.

EU nationals come to the UK mostly to work or to find work. An astonishing 80% of working age EU citizens in the UK are in work. By contrast, many UK emigrants go to other EU states to retire. Broadly speaking, we are taking young Europeans who want jobs and exporting a good number of retired people seeking warmer climes. Some of us would argue that’s been a pretty good deal for Britain. Whatever you think, it’s obviously not a straightforward level playing field.

Setting aside Ireland (where special reciprocal rights have anyway applied for a long time), the rest of the UK emigrants to the EU live in our diocese. How are they feeling about their future rights?

The UK government has made a lot of ‘reciprocity’. They don’t want to give residency rights to the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK before other states give similar rights to the 1.2 million of us living on the continent. I haven’t heard many people in our diocese expressing concerns about this. For myself, I’d rather the UK set a moral lead and give rights to their EU citizens now. The UK government’s approach makes me feel I’m simply being used as a bargaining chip. And I hope more of my fellow bishops will turn up in the Lords for future debates on the subject – only 5 out of 21 were present to vote on the amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. But basic ‘residency’ isn’t, in any case, top of the list of our concerns.

People in our diocese are worrying most about healthcare arrangements. There is currently mutual recognition of state national insurance contributions, making it possible for affordable health care to be received when UK citizens are resident in another EU country on the same basis as its own citizens.  UK tourists can get healthcare covered using an EHIC form. Pensioners can reclaim costs from the NHS via an S1 form. In my opinion, these sophisticated reciprocal health care arrangements represent one of the EU’s best achievements. But we don’t know how, if at all, these schemes will apply under a hard Brexit. For older, more vulnerable people these concerns about whether they will be able to afford healthcare are causing real mental distress.

A second big area of concern is pensions. Currently UK pensions can be received in EU member states with annual uplifts for price or wages growth. Will this continue? And will UK public service pensions also receive annual indexation for citizens who choose to live on the continent? Or will pensions be frozen if someone leaves the UK to live in the EU? This is an area which requires no negotiation with other EU member states – it just requires the UK government to look at the issue and decide!

There are a host of other ‘money’ issues around double taxation treaties, inheritance tax rules, the receipt of gross interest on investments held in the UK, etc. There are concerns around the ‘seconded workers’ scheme, which enables businesses to send workers short-term to another member state without needing to enrol them in that member state’s social security system. (Oh and, I should say, as someone with a care for the employment of clergy, I’m nervous about possible restrictions on the movement of religious workers into the EU.) It is complicated, and it’s going to take a lot of expensive expert consultancy to sort.

Finally, there are about 2000 people of British nationality working directly for the EU Institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg. They represent only a small proportion of our diocese, but the departure of the UK affects them in a very direct and unique way. In their professional lives, they have been able to project a positive image of the UK, to bring an understanding of the British perspective across the full range of policy areas, and expose the EU institutions to the best aspects of British administrative culture. Even after Brexit, they still hope to act as “ambassadors” for the best of British values. They feel strongly that the British Government has an ongoing duty of care towards them.

The ability of people to move freely across the UK and continental Europe to find work when they are younger, or to find a more pleasant climate when they are older, has been a wonderful thing. It has brought income to poorer people; it has been culturally enriching; it has probably added years to the lives of some older folk.  People sometimes ask me what I’m looking for in the negotiations. It’s quite simple: I’d like things to stay the same. I think that is quite a reasonable negotiating goal, and I’m hoping our government will be able to achieve it.


The Rt. Revd. Dr. Robert Innes

Bishop in Europe