Spain and the UK reached a tentative agreement on free movement between the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar and Spain, less than a day before the border became the only land border hard created by Brexi.
“The border gate will be lifted and controls between Gibraltar and Spain can be abolished,” Arancha González Laya, Spain’s Foreign Minister, said Thursday.
“We are going to avoid the worst effects of a hard Brexit,” said Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, shortly after.
Dominic Raab, UK Foreign Secretary, said the deal would form the basis for a separate UK-EU treaty regarding Gibraltar, adding that “we remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar and its sovereignty is saved “.
The agreement will in effect make Gibraltar part of the Schengen free movement zone and convert the airport and port of Gibraltar into an EU border. Over 90% of Gibraltarians voted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum and since then Gibraltar has sought closer ties to the EU than it did before Brexit. Likewise, Ms. González said that the Spanish “vision” was to “remove the border barrier”.
But six months of negotiations on the free movement agreement were blocked on how entry into the Schengen area, now inside British overseas territory, would be controlled.
Madrid had indicated that it would be open to agents from the EU border agency Frontex controlling the passage of the airport and port as a temporary confidence-building measure, but insisted that the Spain, as a member of the EU, would be in charge of the EU border. The government of Gibraltar, for its part, has made it clear that it will not accept Spanish officials to control its borders.
The issue is particularly sensitive because of the sovereignty dispute that has continued since Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.
Announcing the agreement in principle, Ms González insisted that Spain would be the party responsible for Schengen surveillance, but said Frontex agents would help with border checks during a four-year transition period . She declined to say where Spain’s customs and police officers would be located during or after this period.
Mr Picardo insisted that “people should absolutely not be worried” about the arrival of the Spanish Guardia Civil in Gibraltar.
Converting the deal to an EU-UK treaty is expected to take around six months, said Ms González, during which border controls along the current border between Spain and Gibraltar would be managed in accordance with the Schengen regulations.
The free movement of people between the two territories is particularly important for workers in the region. About 15,000 people cross the border to work each day – most moving from the Spanish side to the Gibraltar side. Damage to the regional economy caused by a hard border has reportedly devastated these workers, as job prospects are scarce in the Spanish border area of Campo de Gibraltar, where unemployment is close to 40 percent.
The New Year’s Eve deal “will break down barriers to create an area of shared prosperity,” González said. “Without this agreement in principle, Gibraltar would have been the only place for a hard Brexit, and that concern weighed on the negotiations.”
Mr Picardo said: “It has not been easy, and we have moved on. In fact, I think we felt the thread cut in our flesh when we finalized the deal.