The spirit of Brexit is haunting Gibraltar again

© Else Beekman

A difficult border would cause enormous problems for Spanish and British citizens who cross the border into Gibraltar every day for their work.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Alparis has met with mayors near Gibraltar amid fears that strict controls could once again become a reality.

Talks with Northern Ireland could get in the way

The biggest problem for the negotiations at the moment is the stalled talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Last Sunday, the Paris minister said disagreements over this protocol should not affect Gibraltar. “They are two different things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other; what is more, they are different negotiations.”

However, many believe it will be difficult to keep the negotiations separate. The reason for this is that they occur simultaneously and both depend on the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maros Ševović.

Gibraltar voted to stay with the European Union

The results of the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that an overwhelming majority in Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union. The region was not part of the major Brexit deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This means that Spain and the UK need a separate agreement.

Spain and the United Kingdom reached an interim agreement on December 31 regarding future relations between the European Union and Gibraltar. Under this deal, Gibraltar will join the Schengen area, even though British territory is not formally part of the European Union itself. This best-case scenario is at stake again.

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Soft borders are better economically for Spain and Gibraltar

The area adjacent to the Rock of Gibraltar called Campo de Gibraltar was economically backward. Many workers live there and commute daily to Gibraltar. Therefore, avoiding hard borders is a priority for both parties. Above all, no one wants the same isolation scenario that occurred when General Franco closed the borders in 1969. The borders remained closed for another 16 years.

Last week, European and British delegations held the first round on the future status of Gibraltar. Their goal is to seal a deal before the end of the year. In theory, they only need to formalize the interim agreement in the form of a treaty. This would give Gibraltar all the benefits of Schengen membership, with Spain being the guarantor. But so far, nothing in the Brexit negotiations has gone smoothly.

Emergency agreements expire on October 31

There is another problem looming on the near horizon. Emergency agreements relating to border worker health care, the validity of British driving licenses in Spain and other practical matters will expire on October 31.

So the minister Paris visited the neighboring towns. He wants to make a plea for calm, while still believing that a borderline difficult scenario is very possible.

Megan Vasquez

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