23.01.2022

Gibraltar to join EU Schengen border zone, Spain says

Madrid and London had been negotiating how to police the land border between Spain and Gibraltar, which was excluded from the last-minute exit deal reached between Britain and the European Union on Christmas Eve.

Gibraltar’s border with Spain will remain open following the end of the Brexit transition period after the UK and Spain agreed a draft 11th-hour deal.

The British territory on the southern tip of the Spanish mainland will be part of the free-travel Schengen area.

Spain, as an EU representative, will be responsible for enforcing Schengen rules in Gibraltar, Spain’s foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said.

Ms Gonzalez Laya said her government had worried that the only “hard Brexit” would be in Gibraltar, adding that people living there “can breathe a sigh of relief”.

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s leader, said the deal had been reached “almost at the last minute” and the effects of a hard Brexit had been “averted”.

He warned, however, that tough negotiations were still ahead in drawing up the treaty, including jurisdiction issues and import duties.

“There will be complexity to come,” he told a news conference, adding that “we may end up with a deal on the free movement of people but not goods”.

Boris Johnson welcomed the deal, adding: “The UK has always been, and will remain, totally committed to the protection of the interests of Gibraltar and its British sovereignty.”

Pedro Sanchez, the prime minister of Spain, said the deal will “allow us to remove barriers and move towards an area of shared prosperity”.

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, said the draft agreement would now be sent to Brussels, with the European Commission and London to start negotiations to turn it into a formal treaty.

Ms Gonzalez Laya said she expected the treaty to be signed within six months.

Mr Raab said: “All sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.”

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 96 per cent of voters in Gibraltar supported remaining in the EU.

The Rock’s population of 34,000 faced the possibility of entering the new year with tight controls on what for decades has been an open border with the bloc through Spain.

Much was riding on the outcome for Gibraltar, which needs access to the EU market for its economy.

More than 15,000 people live in Spain and work in the British territory, making up about 50 per cent of its labour market.

The territory was ceded to Britain in 1713, but Spain maintains its claim to sovereignty over it. That dispute has occasionally flared.

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