Spain is warning staff, visitors and companies of disruption if no agreement on the Gibraltar border is reached by the end of the Brexit transition phase between Britain and the EU.
Gibraltar, a British colony off the southern tip of mainland Spain, was not included in the Christmas Eve Brexit trade agreement aimed at resetting the EU’s trade and economic ties with Britain.
The deadline for Gibraltar remains January 1, when the transition period for governing the Gibraltar-Spain border expires.
Spain has succeeded in persuading the EU to isolate the Gibraltar question from the wider Brexit negotiations, ensuring that Madrid will hold all talks in Gibraltar and London directly with its interlocutors.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya has reported that if no compromise is reached, she worries that the long lines of stranded truckers seen at last week’s English Channel crossing might be replicated.
We don’t have much time, Ms. Gonzalez Laya told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE, “We don’t have much time, and the chaotic scenes from the U.K. must remind us that we must keep working to reach an agreement on Gibraltar. The Spanish want one, the people of Gibraltar want one, now the UK must also want one. The political will is necessary.”
Spain has maintained that it needs a say in the future of Gibraltar in the Brexit negotiations.
In 1713, The Rock was ceded to Britain, but Spain never gave up its claim to sovereignty over it. The strategic rocky outcrop has provided the British navy control over the narrow sea route from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic for three centuries.
“Neither side is going to give up its sovereignty claims, but we have to put that aside to reach an agreement that makes life easier for people on both sides of the border,” said Ms. Gonzalez Laya.
More than 15,000 workers live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, accounting for about 50 percent of the labor force in Gibraltar. The population of about 34,000 in Gibraltar was overwhelmingly opposed to Britain leaving the European Union. 96 percent of Gibraltar voters supported staying in the continental bloc in the 2016 Brexit referendum in the U.K., which they claim gives them more control over the Madrid government.
The territory also recalls how the Spanish tyrant, General Francisco Franco, closed the border in 1969 to kill the economy of Gibraltar.
The post-Brexit trade agreement was a great relief considering the possible difficulties a no-deal Brexit might have generated for the United Kingdom and the European Union, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.
But he added that there was still a danger to his territory.
“Mr. Picardo said, “Gibraltar is not covered by this deal. The clock is still ticking for us, and for the people of Campo de Gibraltar around us.
“We continue to work hand in hand with the UK to conclude negotiations with Spain on an agreement for a proposed treaty between the EU and the UK in relation to Gibraltar.”
Mr. Picardo recently told the Spanish radio station Cadena SER that the “most positive” result will be a Schengen-style agreement to promote the 30 million border crossings between Gibraltar and Spain annually.
The European Schengen region consists of nations that have decided within the community to eliminate general travel restrictions, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, certain local controls have been reintroduced. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen group.
The British government has said it is committed to seeking a solution that “ensures a fluid border, which is clearly in the best interests of the communities living on both sides.”