LONDON – Spain and the UK have reached an eleventh hour deal to avoid a hard border in Gibraltar as the Brexit transition draws to a close.
Under the terms of the agreement, Gibraltar will be part of the Schengen Passport-Free Zone with the sponsorship of Spain, the country’s Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya announced on Thursday. This is necessary because unlike Liechtenstein, for example, Gibraltar is not an independent state.
This means that British citizens will have to go through a Schengen border post to enter Gibraltar via its airport and seaport. During a four-year transition, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, called Frontex, will patrol the two access points.
Patrolling at border posts has been one of the most controversial points in the negotiations over Gibraltar’s future, with Spain insisting that Frontex report to Spanish authorities. González Laya, however, declined to reveal more technical details or the terms of the deal after the transition ends, saying she wanted to brief Spain’s parliament first.
“We have reached an agreement in principle with the United Kingdom which will lay the foundations for a new relationship,” González Laya said at a press conference. The Spanish minister added that all parties understood the need to cooperate with each other and put aside their “inalienable” sovereignty conflicts.
The negotiations lasted for months and at times turned sour. Britain’s European Neighborhood Minister Wendy Morton said on Wednesday that no deal had yet been reached. González Laya admitted that there had been “a very intense evening and a very long night” before an agreement was reached in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Although the UK and the EU have struck a future relationship deal, Gibraltar’s future had to be settled in parallel negotiations between London, Madrid and The Rock.
The deal reached on Thursday has been submitted to the European Commission, which is to turn it into an international treaty between the EU and the UK, in a process González Laya expects to take around six months. There will be no change at the border during this period, the Spanish minister said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed in a statement that the UK, Spain and Gibraltar have reached an agreement on a “political framework” to form the basis of a separate treaty between the UK. United and the EU over Gibraltar.
“We remain unwavering in our support for Gibraltar and its sovereignty is safeguarded,” the statement said. “I thank Foreign Minister Laya and her team for their positive and constructive approach. We have a warm and strong relationship with Spain and look forward to developing it in 2021. ”
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the agreement will allow “maximum and unlimited mobility” of people between Gibraltar and the Schengen area.
“It was a difficult process. We have fought the tide of history, but with this tentative agreement, we hope to begin to see the future unfold. We are at the beginning of the creation of a zone of shared prosperity, ”he said.
Picardo congratulated Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for “insisting that he wanted to go beyond the eternal question of sovereignty”, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “who did not forget Gibraltar in the Brexit negotiations ”.
Picardo has said Gibraltar may make additional deals with Spain in the future, but that shouldn’t be interpreted as the rock moving away from the UK.
“This is the start of building a stronger relationship with the European Union and with our neighbor Spain in a way that in no way takes us away from the UK, which is our relationship. principle, the relationship we want to maintain. and grow, and we want to see it last in the best possible way, ”he said.