Spain will have the final say on who can enter Gibraltar under the terms of the preliminary post-Brexit deal announced this week, Spain’s foreign minister said, in a statement that was quickly challenged by Gibraltar’s prime minister.
The agreement in principle, reached just hours before Gibraltar became the only border marked by a hard Brexit, will allow the British overseas territory to join the Schengen free movement area with Spain acting as guarantor.
Gibraltar’s port and airport would become the external borders of the Schengen area, with controls carried out by the EU border agency Frontex over an initial period of four years.
“Schengen is a set of rules, procedures and tools, including its database, to which only Spain has access. Gibraltar and the United Kingdom no ”, Arancha González Laya he told the Spanish newspaper El País in an interview published Saturday. “That is why the final decision on who enters the Schengen area belongs to Spain.”
When asked if this would imply the presence of Spanish police or customs in Gibraltar, a point that had proven to be a major stumbling block in the negotiations, González Laya said more details would be made public after informing the Spanish parliament of the agreement in the coming days. “Obviously, there must be a Spanish presence to carry out the minimum tasks of Schengen control,” he said.
The Gibraltar government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Saturday, in response to an article published by a right-wing Spanish newspaper, Fabián Picardo, prime minister of the territory tweeted: “Under the New Year’s Eve agreement, only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar and Spanish officials will not exercise any control in Gibraltar at the airport or port now or four years from now. This is our land. It couldn’t be clearer. “
The negotiations had sought to capitalize on the shared interests between Spain and Gibraltar but they also understood that “a greater dose of trust is needed,” said González Laya, citing the use of Frontex agents as an element designed to build this trust.
Before the pandemic, an average of 28,500 people crossed the border a day, including some 15,000 cross-border workers.
The agreement has been sent to Brussels, where the European Commission will enter into negotiations with London to convert it into a treaty. González Laya estimated that the process would take about six months. Meanwhile, he said Spain will work to ensure that mobility at the shared land border, which until Friday had technically been transformed into an external EU border, is “as seamless as possible.”
Under the agreement, Gibraltar would establish closer ties with the EU just as the UK formally severed ties with the bloc. “That is the great paradox,” he said, pointing to almost 96% of voters in Gibraltar who supported remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
“What we have seen is a paradigm shift that is not made by concessions but by the convergence of interests between Gibraltarians and Spaniards, both Europeanists,” he added. “This is the fruit of Brexit.”
He stressed that, according to the agreement, “no one gave an inch” when it came to claims of sovereignty over the territory. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain in 1713, but has long tried to claim it.
Earlier in the week, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the deal did not affect the sovereignty of the British Overseas Territory in any way. “We remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar, and its sovereignty is safeguarded,” he said in a statement.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism