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The biggest shift in Spanish-Gibraltarian relations since 1713.
The Brexit agreement between Gibraltar, the U.K. and Spain is heavy on symbolism.
It provides for the demolition of the 1.2-kilometer physical barrier that encircles the Rock and has been at the center of constant rows among the three governments for decades.
The text of the preliminary agreement, concluded on December 31 and leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País, represents the biggest shift in Spanish-Gibraltarian bilateral relations since Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 during the War of Spanish Succession. Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha González confirmed the authenticity of the leaked document Monday night, during a video meeting with opposition MPs upset by the leak.
Gibraltar’s association with the Schengen passport-free area under the auspices of Spain means its international border will move from the physical barrier to its airport and seaport, removing the need for the barrier.
The barrier was shut during the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, between 1969 and 1982, and the fear of a similar situation in the future has remained in the back of many Gibraltarians’ minds since then.
To avoid disruption to the EU’s single market as a result, Gibraltar agreed to apply “substantially” the same duties and trade policy measures as the EU, including decisions on customs, excise and VAT legislation, as well as to share reliable statistics on its imports with the EU, which could be seen as a win for Brussels. But unlike Northern Ireland, which also has to follow EU customs rules for the same reason, this is not expected to create massive amounts of red tape, given the small volume of goods moving from Gibraltar to the EU. Gibraltar also committed not to undercut the EU’s environmental protections.
Spain, as a member of Schengen, will be responsible for the implementation of Schengen checks and the application of the Schengen Borders Code. However, Gibraltar will be the first to decide whether a traveller is allowed to enter the territory, and only then Spain will decide if it approves their entry into the Schengen area. Despite handling Gibraltar’s foreign policy, the U.K. government will not play a role in the operation of the border controls.
Spanish and Gibraltarian officers will conduct checks on travellers and luggage at the Rock’s seaport, with similar procedures taking place at its airport. The two groups of officers will share office space at an airport facility created for this purpose, the text adds.
But while it may seem like it’s mainly the U.K. that’s given ground here, it’s not that straightforward. After that transition period, Gibraltar, Spain and the U.K. will discuss how this arrangement worked and any of the three parties will be able to terminate the agreement if they are not satisfied.
And when it comes to the contentious issue of Gibraltarian sovereignty, the text of the deal reflects the uncompromising positions of Spain and the U.K., stating that this framework is “without prejudice to the issue of sovereignty and jurisdiction” of the Rock.