Hours before Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry in Madrid hosted a discreet meeting between representatives of the European Union and the United Kingdomas diplomatic sources have confirmed to El Periódico de España, a medium of the same Editorial Group, Prensa Ibérica, as this newspaper.
They were trying to smooth things over to reach an agreement on the situation in Gibraltar after Brexit. Ninth round after nine months of negotiation of a Treaty that, without going into considerations of sovereignty, serves to create orna “joint prosperity zone” between the Rock under British control and the Cadiz region of Campo de Gibraltar. For this, it is necessary to negotiate who and how controls the entry of passengers and goods or what taxes are applied to products once, as intended, the fence that separates the colony from the European Schengen zone disappears.
Representatives from the UK and the European Commission were present at this meeting, accompanied by Spanish technicians and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabián Picardo. He “joined because he was invited by the UK delegation,” say the same sources. Picardo will be in Madrid in principle until this Friday, according to gibraltarian sourcesalthough its agenda is unknown.
This is the context in which Spanish diplomacy received the news this Thursday that the British Prime Minister had agreed to resign, after the countless departures of ministers from his Government due to lack of confidence. A resignation, that of Boris Johnson without date, “deferred”: the next week will be announced, he said, the schedule of his departure. In October there is a congress of the British Conservative Party.
The political instability in the United Kingdom that is expected in the coming months is a setback for the negotiations for the treaty on Gibraltar. To begin with, because an event of such historical caliber has to be endorsed by the chief executive, and it is unknown when there will be a new tenant in Downing Street. Also, because one of the favorites to get the post that Johnson is likely to leave is his Foreign Minister, Liz Truss.
Truss has been described by the British press as the possible new Margaret Thatcher or as the ‘blonde ambition’ of the Tory Party. She has led negotiations on Gibraltar since he took office in September last year, just a few months after the New Year’s Eve Agreement (signed on December 31, 2020) between the UK and Spain was reached. It expressed the will of the parties and set the framework for the future agreement.
According to the diplomatic sources consulted, a good part of the hundreds of points to deal with is agreed.
Breakdown of the agreement on Northern Ireland
On June 13, Boris Johnson, already subjected to harsh criticism within his party for the parties in the midst of a pandemic, announced the unilateral rupture of the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed with the European Union after Brexit. He ordered a new law to be brought to Parliament for its approval that will eliminate a large part of the customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the supervisory role of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The irritation in Brussels was not hidden; London was breaking a deal that had cost sweat and tears. For Liz Truss, however, “it will end an untenable situation: the citizens of Northern Ireland were treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Although both negotiations, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland, are different in principle, the negotiating teams are the same. On one side, Truss; on the other, the vice president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic. He will have a hard time building trust on one issue if he has completely broken down on the other.
But, in addition, there are common themes on both borders. For example, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (CJEU), which London wants to remove from the agreement for Northern Ireland and which is also red line over Gibraltar. “I don’t see any future role for the CJEU” in Gibraltar, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
Lax controls in Gibraltar
Another of the issues that remain in suspense in the current situation is that of the controls that are being applied in Gibraltar in this transition period. Right now they are being lax, as a gesture of goodwill on both sides. Gibraltar is letting in the approximately 11,000 workers who go from Campo de Gibraltar just by showing the ID. No queues at the Gate. Spain applies similar controls to Gibraltarian residents (those with the so-called “red card” identity). However, UK citizens are subject to the same non-EU controls as when traveling to another European Union country.
This week a group of British Conservative MPs has traveled to Gibraltar to investigate this alleged “discrimination”. Asked about this application of Schengen controls, the British Minister for Europe, James Cleverly, said (before also resigning) that “in the end it is a decision of Spain”.
In this environment of political uncertainty, one of the questions that arises is how much longer the this exceptional situation for gate control.
Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Government of Gibraltar nor the embassy of the United Kingdom have wanted to make statements to this newspaper regarding how the change of Government affects.
The road from the announced resignation of Boris Johnson to the election of a new prime minister for the United Kingdom is going to be one of high political intensity. It is expected that both the renegotiation of the Northern Ireland agreement with the European Union and the course of the Treaty for Gibraltar will enter into the political campaign prior to the Conservative Party Congress.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.