Thursday, April 18

New negotiating round on Gibraltar in London with border control as the main stumbling block

The treaty negotiations on Gibraltar, to set the conditions of the British colony after Brexit, they are at a peak. All knowledgeable sources consider that the agreement is very close. “Next month”, expects one of the parties to the dispute. The secrecy is total to avoid the derailment of a text with devilish details. Among the points of greatest negotiating tension is how to apply border controls on people and customs.

In this context, a new round of negotiations will take place this week in London, on the 10th and 11th, as confirmed by this newspaper. It will be the eighth of these meetings between representatives of United Kingdom and the European Comissionand with the presence of envoys from Spain and Gibraltar. It is about landing the details of the framework agreement reached on New Year’s Eve 2020 and completing a negotiating process that formally started last October.

“The previous rounds have cleared all the issues, and the knot is now the issue of mobility, in particular the implementation of the agreement between the UK and Spain on how Schengen will work, the degree to which Spanish officials will be involved and how it will be managed smoothly”, Julian Braithwaite, the general director for Europe of the United Kingdom, said in the House of Lords, according to the transcript consulted by this newspaper. “That is where the negotiations are now focused.”

In the same commission, the British head for the negotiations assured that the relationship with the Spanish side is very fluid. “We get along very well and talk formally and informally quite regularly; the ingredients to reach a resolution are there”.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spanish has not wanted to make statements about this newspaper. Neither British nor Gibraltarian diplomatic sources.

Agreement out of date

Spain and the United Kingdom reached a bilateral understanding on December 31, 2020 to resolve practical and cooperation issues in the region after Brexit. To do this, it was decided to put aside questions of sovereignty and jurisdiction and focus on issues that affect the lives of citizens in the region: mobility through the fence, the entry of goods, etc.

In July of last year, the European Commission drafted a mandate containing the guidelines for the negotiation. The one in charge of the negotiation by the European Commission is the community vice president Maros Sefcovic. In October negotiations began with the United Kingdom, always with the presence of Spain and, on behalf of the Government of Gibraltar, Attorney General Michael Llamas.

Since then there have been seven rounds, and two unfulfilled deadlines to finalize the agreement, the last one at Easter this year. Now, the parties have refused to set a new deadline for the final treaty, among other things because they are not bound, contrary to what happened with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

what is negotiated

In the European Commission’s mandate is to try to arrive at joint rules for land and air transport and the rights of cross-border workers (Thousands of people who cross “the fence” in one direction and another).

It also intends to find solutions to eliminate checks and physical controls of people and goods at the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, while guaranteeing the integrity of the Schengen area (the border-free area within the European Union) and the single market. And everything that this implies: rules on visas, residence permits, asylum or police cooperation.

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At first, the agreement would be for four years initially and may be unilaterally suspended in certain circumstances.

The Frontex Solution

One of the red lines expressed by the Gibraltarian side is that there are no Spanish border guards inside the fence. There was no reference in the European Commission’s mandate that Frontex border guards (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) were the ones to carry out the controls, which became one of the points of friction for the British side of the negotiation.

The mandate proposed by the Commission stated that the control and surveillance of the borders would be carried out at the airport and port in the waters of Gibraltar under the responsibility of Spain. The possibility of requesting assistance from Frontex was offered.

In recent weeks, the Gibraltarian media have complained that Spain is tightening border controls, and have reported cases of Britons who have had difficulty entering Spain for not specifying the reason for the visit and showing the Sufficient cash availability. However, the same British negotiators have denied having received complaints from the Gibraltarian side in this regard. James Cleverly denied that Spain is putting more pressure on the fence amid negotiations. “That is not the tone that I am noticing in the conversations that I am having, nor have I seen concrete information. People when they cross the borders can have occasional difficulties, which are undesirable, but part of the border administrative process.

The Court of Justice of the EU

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Another point that must be addressed in the negotiations is whether Gibraltar is going to accept the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Asked last year by Boris Johnson how his government was going to get the CJEU out of Gibraltar, the British Prime Minister replied: “Gibraltar is British, British, British, and will remain so. I don’t see any CJEU role there.”

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The British chief negotiator has expressed himself along the same lines. There is no need, he says, for future oversight by European institutions like that court on this matter. This will be another of the issues to be resolved in the round of negotiations that begins in London this week.

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