EU governments approved a mandate for talks about a post-Brexit treaty on Gibraltar’s relationship with the bloc following a deal struck on December 31, 2020, that avoided a hard border between Gibraltar and Spain.
Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory located at the Southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has belonged to Britain since it got ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
When the UK left the EU, it did so with a preliminary agreement on Gibraltar that stated the territory, with a population of about 32,000, would join the Schengen area – a zone the UK has never been part of.
The agreement includes the end to the border, meaning a fence that has been there for more than 13 years will disappear. For this to become a reality, however, a separate deal is still needed.
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Brussels drafted a proposal in July that former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said saught “to undermine the UK’s sovereignty”. It differed from the December 2020 agreement between London and Madrid as it called for Spanish border authorities to help police Gibraltar’s port and airport. The UK wants Frontex, an agency that operates under EU guidelines, to be in charge.
The outcome of the talks being held this week is important for Gibraltar since approximately 15,000 people from Spain cross the border every day for work.
A hard border would difficult these Spaniards’ commute to the territory and thus directly impact Gibraltarian businesses as well as locals’ access to basic goods such as food. Closer ties between Gibraltar and Spain, meanwhile, would benefit both sides.
The talks will specifically focus on resolving border tensions, without tackling issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction.
Foreign Officer Minister Wendy Morton said last week: “It’s fair to say that the UK and Gibraltar governments are working really, really closely on this to make sure we have robust plans in place and that we are well prepared in all eventualities.
“That includes if we find ourselves in a no-deal situation.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted on Friday: “We are committed to working towards a treaty in line with the framework agreed with Spain.”
She added the UK “remains steadfast in our support for Gibraltar & will not agree anything that compromises sovereignty”.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega