Days after the Brexit deal was sealed, last-minute negotiations over Gibraltar continue, as Madrid and London scramble to establish how the shared border will transform once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
“The days are getting longer, but our time is getting shorter,” said Gibraltar Prime Minister Fabian Picardo. wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
After the UK-EU deal was announced last week, Picardo was quick to point out that it does not cover Gibraltar. “For us and for the people of the Campo de Gibraltar around us, the clock is ticking,” he said.
The Gibraltar talks, which for months have paralleled the broader Brexit negotiations, have proven to be a delicate task; focused on preserving free movement for the thousands who regularly cross the narrow border that divides Spain and Gibraltar while staying clear of the centuries-long sovereignty dispute between London and Madrid.
Before the pandemic, an average of 28,500 people crossed the border a day. Picardo has long argued that this fluidity could be protected by Gibraltar’s joining the Schengen area, a move that would see Gibraltar forging closer ties with the EU just as Britain leaves the bloc.
According to El País newspaper of Spain Such an agreement is in the final stages of negotiation. Gibraltar will reportedly join the 26 European countries that currently allow the free movement of people through Schengen and would make the airport and seaport of the overseas territory the newest external border of the EU.
In what could become a sore point, the agreement would subject British citizens arriving in Gibraltar to passport control, while Spaniards could freely cross the territory.
With just a few days after the end of the transition period, the stakes in the negotiations have taken on a new importance. Spain’s Foreign Minister has repeatedly insisted that if an agreement on Gibraltar is not reached before the end of the year, the British Overseas Territory will become an external border for the EU “with all its consequences”.
When asked for examples of what this could mean, Arancha González Laya pointed to scenes of stuck trucks stretching for miles and parking lots full of trucks crisscrossing England’s south coast this week.
The example is not without precedent: In 2013 Spain stepped up its border controls and pondered the idea of a border crossing fee, sparking months of stagnation amid a dispute over an artificial reef.
However, speaking to broadcaster Cadena Ser this week, González Laya said that Spain was committed to reaching an agreement on Gibraltar. “We prefer a deal and will work until the last minute to get a deal in Gibraltar.”
As the deadline for the transition period approaches, the Gibraltar government remains “optimistic” that a deal is within reach, a source told The Guardian.
The sentiment echoed Picardo who posted on Twitter: “I am sure that the borders of our ingenuity will find a route around the borders made by man.”
Despite cending Gibraltar to Great Britain in 1713, Spain has long sought to regain the small territory at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
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