Just hours before the UK completed its break with the 27-nation bloc, Madrid and London reached an agreement in principle.
An 11-hour breakthrough in lengthy negotiations will maintain Gibraltar’s crucial border with Spain after the UK’s complete departure from the European Union, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said on Thursday.
Just hours before the United Kingdom completed its break with the 27-nation bloc, Madrid and London reached “an agreement in principle” which means that the inhabitants of British territory at the southern tip of Spain ” can breathe a sigh of relief, ”González Dit Laya.
The key to the deal is that The Rock, whose sovereignty is contested by Spain and Britain, will remain subject to the rules in force in the European Schengen area, she said.
This area consists of about two dozen countries that have agreed to eliminate general travelers’ checks among them. Great Britain is not part of the Schengen group.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement that negotiating teams wanted “to keep the borders flowing, which is clearly in the interest of people living on both sides”.
The compromise agreement between Spain and the UK will be sent to Brussels, where the European Commission will start negotiations with London to make it a treaty, González Laya said.
She said she expected the treaty to be signed within six months.
González Laya said technical details of the deal, such as how Gibraltar’s port and airport will be controlled, will be released in the new year. A major obstacle in the negotiations was whether EU representatives could be stationed on British territory.
Spain must ensure that Gibraltar respects the Schengen rules.
In the 2016 UK Brexit referendum, 96% of Gibraltar voters supported staying in the EU. They were faced with the possibility of entering the new year with new, tight controls over what for decades has been an open border with the bloc across Spain.
Much depended on the outcome for Gibraltar, which needs access to the EU market for its small economy. The territory has about 34,000 people.
More than 15,000 people live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, which represents around 50% of its labor market.
Gibraltar was not part of the Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK, which was announced on Christmas Eve.
The territory was ceded to Great Britain in 1713, but Spain maintains its claim of sovereignty over it. This dispute sometimes arose.