Spanish foreign minister says he does not want ‘no deal’ relationship, but EU is prepared for hard Brexit for territory.
Spain and the EU are prepared for all possibilities – including a hard Brexit – when it comes to the bloc’s relationship with Gibraltar, Spain’s foreign minister has said, adding that the ball was now in London’s court after 11 rounds of negotiations.
“Spain doesn’t want a ‘no deal’ scenario,” the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, told Europa Press. “The government of Spain and the EU, which is ultimately the signatory on the agreement with the UK, are ready for any scenario.”
The Brexit withdrawal agreement, announced on Christmas Eve 2020, did not cover Gibraltar. Days later – as the overseas territory was hours away from becoming the only land border marked by a hard Brexit – Madrid and London signed off on an agreement in principle that championed the idea of incorporating the British territory into the EU’s Schengen area.
Negotiations aimed at turning the agreement into a formal treaty began in October 2021. As Spain and the EU squared off against a UK delegation that included Gibraltarian officials, they sought to steer clear of the centuries-old sovereignty dispute between London and Madrid.
Instead, the focus was on common ground such as the 15,000 workers who cross into Gibraltar each day from Spain and keep the economy humming on both sides of the border. Gibraltar has a resident population of 34,000.
The drive to protect the workers’ freedom of movement, however, has also given rise to one of the proposal’s sticking points: the question of who will carry out passport checks on travellers who arrive at the airport in Gibraltar.
Spain has repeatedly insisted that, as the sponsoring Schengen member, the responsibility should fall to the Spanish police. The UK, however, has pushed for the EU border agency, Frontex, to take on the role.
Their positions are complicated by 300 years of history; despite ceding Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Spain has long sought to reclaim the territory.
The issue has seemingly stymied the talks, leaving parties walking away from the latest proposal on the table despite reports of constructive talks and goodwill from both sides.
“Obviously we cannot be in this situation for ever,” said Albares. “The United Kingdom has to say clearly if it wants this agreement, which is global and touches all aspects of what has to be the relationship between Spain and the United Kingdom regarding Gibraltar, or if it does not want it.”
He described the proposal as “reasonable and balanced”, adding that Spain was “ready to sign tomorrow”. He declined to provide a timeline of how much longer Spain and the EU were willing to continue negotiating.
Officials in Gibraltar – where 96% of residents voted in 2016 to remain in the EU – are bracing for the worst. In late November more than a dozen of the territory’s departments and agencies, along with the UK’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence held a six-hour exercise that simulated the consequences of a breakdown in negotiations between the UK and the EU.
“The government remains firmly committed to the negotiation of a treaty but has a duty to prepare for no treaty at the same time,” Joseph Garcia, the territory’s deputy chief minister, said in a statement at the time.
“This will be a different world where our interactions with Spain and with the EU will be more cumbersome, bureaucratic and time-consuming than anything we have known before.”
The Foreign Office said in a statement that further discussions are planned for the coming weeks and described a mid-December meeting between the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and his Spanish counterpart as “a productive discussion”.
“The UK remains steadfast in our support for Gibraltar and will not agree to anything that compromises sovereignty,” it added.
Source: The Guardian