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Gibraltar will retaliate if Spain imposes full border checks

In Europe
June 03, 2024

Gibraltar will retaliate if Spain imposes full border checks on the Rock, the British territory’s first minister has warned.

Fabian Picardo was speaking after the Tories shelved political-level negotiations until after the July 4 general election.

“If these talks break down, sorrow might turn to anger quite quickly,” he told the Gibraltar Chronicle on Monday.

The unofficial deadline of this weekend’s European elections for a deal creating a common travel area between Spain and the Rock will be missed.

Officials remain in touch on technical issues but political negotiations between London, Madrid and Brussels are not expected to resume until the new leadership of the EU is settled, which could drag until the end of the year.

Negotiators had hoped for a breakthrough on an agreement giving Gibraltar associate membership of the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone last month, but six hours of talks in Brussels failed over sovereignty issues.

The deal would move the border to Gibraltar airport, protecting the post-Brexit free flow of some 15,000 Spain-based workers to and from the Rock every day.

Those workers are essential to the Gibraltarian economy, which offers much-needed employment to the neighbouring poor Spanish region.

Since Brexit, usual border procedures have been temporarily waived to allow the negotiations to continue.

Madrid has warned that the temporary fix, introduced as Brexit took full effect at the end of 2020, cannot continue indefinitely and that full border controls could be introduced.

Gibraltarians and Spaniards would then need to have their passports stamped and would be limited to 90 days visa-free travel to the other jurisdiction each year.

A temporary fix was put in place after Brexit for which Gibraltarians were 95.9 per cent in favour of Remain

A temporary fix was put in place after Brexit for which Gibraltarians were 95.9 per cent in favour of Remain – Alexandre ROSA / Alamy Stock Photo

People in Gibraltar need to understand that the alternative to a treaty is potentially the full application of the Schengen border code with all of the massive difficulties that that would entail, and for us to do it reciprocally,” Mr Picardo said.

“In other words, if the Schengen border code is applied to Gibraltar and to crossings from Gibraltar to Spain, the government of Gibraltar will apply the same rules to crossings from Spain to Gibraltar. We will do that more in sorrow than in anger.”

The first minister said that a possible fallback would be a bilateral local border traffic agreement with Spain but that would be “unambitious”.

“The reality is that we may fail to do a treaty, and we may also fail to agree a local border traffic arrangement,” he said.

The last round of negotiations between Lord Cameron, José Manuel Albares, the Spanish foreign secretary, and Maros Sefcovic, of the European Commission, floundered over the issue of Spanish police operating at the airport.

It was thought that issue had been solved by having guards from Frontex, the EU border agency, policing the new Schengen border at the airport, which is a short walk from the current frontier.

But the issue remains problematic, especially as Madrid claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which it calls a colony.

There was alarm when Spain’s government admitted last month that it expected armed uniformed Spanish police officers to implement border controls at the airport and maritime entry points.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question in Spain’s Senate, the Spanish government said: “The Policia Nacional must carry out border controls. If Frontex agents are present, their role should be to support and complement the Policia Nacional.”

It added that the Policia Nacional must be “able to move freely throughout the entire border area” and that officers “must serve in uniform” and would “carry weapons while performing their duties”.

‘Gibraltarians reject Spanish presence’

“Spain needs to be understanding of why the Gibraltarian rejects Spanish presence in Gibraltar. It’s a product of 60 years of what I might call almost abuse,” Mr Picardo said.

“We’ve seen the Spanish law enforcement agencies in Gibraltar as the instrument of the Spanish attempt not to recognise our waters and our territory.”

Tory Brexiteer backbenchers had also raised security concerns over the airport, which is an RAF military base, and other sovereignty implications for the deal.

The Telegraph understands that agreement in principle has been reached on some strands of the deal, including an agreement allowing Spanish and other EU planes to land at Gibraltar airport for the first time in more than a decade.

This would bring a tourism boost to the poor Spanish region close to Gibraltar, thanks to the airport, which currently only takes flights to and from the UK.

A source said one idea would be for Spain and Gibraltar to set up a joint venture to manage such commercial flights, which would be ring-fenced from the RAF military base.

“The commission remains committed to reach an EU-UK agreement for the benefit of the whole region. The teams remain in touch,” a European Commission spokesman said.

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