Gibraltar faces hard border if no special deal by 1 January

Spain and the United Kingdom have signed an international agreement on taxation, protection of financial interests and the fight against fraud and tax evasion related to Gibraltar. [EPA/FERNANDO VILLAR]

Gibraltar’s border with Spain will be reintroduced on 1 January 2021 unless an additional deal is reached between the UK and the European Commission and approved by Spain.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator for the future relationship with the UK, recalled on Monday (3 February) that “the territorial application [of the new framework] will not include Gibraltar”.

The political declaration agreed by the EU and the UK stated that Spain needed to give its explicit consent.

Spain strikes last-minute deal on Gibraltar and unlocks Brexit deal

The Brexit deal is good to go. The Spanish government announced on Saturday (24 November) that it would back the deal after striking a last-minute agreement to ensure any agreement for the future relationship with the UK will not automatically apply to Gibraltar.

“We will have a specific parallel table between the UK and the EU, but the Kingdom of Spain will have to give prior agreement to each chapter,” Barnier added.

Barnier met with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Madrid last Thursday, on the eve of Brexit, and the issue of the future relationship with Gibraltar was raised.

The Commission was ready to start the negotiations with London on the additional deal for Gibraltar in parallel with talks on the overall agreement, an EU official said, but Spain hasn’t given its approval yet.

If this mini-agreement is not ready by the end of the year, the fence between Gibraltar and Spain will be back on 1 January, putting at risk more than 13,000 jobs in the neighbouring area in Andalucía.

Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo called for “border fluidity” to minimise the impact of Brexit.

“But that fluidity must be guaranteed on a non-discriminatory basis and not just favour frontier workers over Gibraltar residents, because we will not agree to that,” he said in a statement.

Gulf exposed on EU-UK trade talks as Johnson rejects EU pre-conditions

Boris Johnson nudged the United Kingdom towards a hard Brexit on Monday, insisting that the UK would not commit to maintaining EU standards on state aid and labour standards in order to strike a new trade deal with Brussels. But he also said London would not seek to “undermine EU standards” or “engage in dumping”.

The EU’s exclusion of Gibraltar from the future relationship will bring another bone of contention to what is expected to be a tough negotiation against the clock between Brussels and London.

The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that “the UK will be negotiating on behalf of the entire UK family.” 

“That includes Gibraltar and the sovereignty of Gibraltar remains, as everybody knows, indivisible,” he said.

The negotiations on the special deal to cover Gibraltar will not start from scratch. Spain and the UK have been in talks over the past years. In November 2018, they signed bilateral memorandums on citizen’s rights, tobacco and other products, environmental cooperation and police and customs cooperation.

The aim of these documents was to bring clarity during the transition period and to establish the basis for the negotiations on the future relationship between Gibraltar and Spain.

But EU officials explained that these bilateral agreements would not have any effect unless they are included in the EU-UK deal for Gibraltar.

Spain is expected to cooperate very closely with the Commission during the negotiations of this mini-deal.

In addition to these four memorandums, Spain and the UK also signed an international agreement to cooperate on tax matters and the fight against tax erosion.

This is the first international agreement signed by Spain and the UK on Gibraltar since the Treaty of Utrecht, under which the Rock came under London’s control in 1713. 

In contrast with the four sectorial memorandums, this agreement will remain in place even if no future relationship deal is concluded, as it is an international agreement between Spain and the UK that would become the fallback option on tax cooperation.

Gibraltar is a 'colony,' MEPs say

MEPs in the European Parliament’s justice committee have backed a regulation that refers to the British Overseas Terrority Gibraltar as a ‘colony.’ The main purpose of the text put forward by the EU member states is to offer visa-free access to the EU for UK citizens after Brexit, but has caused controversy over its choice of language.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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