A POST-BREXIT deal on Gibraltar appeared to take a step closer to becoming a reality this week, after a hastily arranged meeting in Madrid on Wednesday between Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and his opposite number in the UK James Cleverly.
‘We are closer [to a deal] now than at the beginning of the meeting,’ the Spanish minister said in comments reported by Politico. The talks, he added, are ‘advancing at a good pace’.
For his part, Cleverly said that the UK government was ‘fully invested in agreeing a deal as soon as possible’.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was also present at the meeting, via video link
A provisional agreement on Gibraltar was struck on New Year’s Eve 2020, leaving day-to-day life in the British Overseas Territory unchanged. Since then, there have been nearly a dozen rounds of talks on its future over the past year. The negotiations have been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the unstable political landscape in the UK this year.
According to Albares, the proposal that the UK has in its hands, and which has been approved by the European Commission and Spain, includes doing away with the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, the free movement of people and goods, equal pensions for Spaniards who have worked in the territory and UK nationals, and tougher environmental restrictions.
The Spanish minister warned on Wednesday that ‘we can’t be negotiating eternally’, adding that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.
Cleverly, meanwhile, said that talks were progressing in an ‘optimistic and positive spirit’, and that just ‘modest differences remain’.
He made clear, however, that ‘if the proposal was completely acceptable’ for the UK, ‘we would have accepted it’.
One of the reported sticking points is the issue of who will carry out customs checks at the airport and port should Gibraltar become part of the Schengen free-movement area.
The UK wants it to be officials from Frontex, the European Union’s border force, while Spain insists it should be their officers, albeit with the concession that Frontex would assist over the first four years.
‘It is clear that, if there is an extension of the Schengen area, then the controls have to be carried out on behalf of the European Union by the approved authorities, which in this case is the Spanish police,’ said Albares in comments reported by the Financial Times.
One of Spain’s objectives for the post-Brexit deal is for the neighbouring Spanish comarca (county) of Campo de Gibraltar, one of the poorest in the country, to benefit from its proximity to the British Overseas Territory. Some 15,000 workers cross from Spain into Gibraltar every day.
One point that has not been up for discussion is the sovereignty of Gibraltar, which was ceded to the British in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. The UK is not moving from its position that the territory must remain British, while Madrid refuses to recognise its sovereignty.