MEP Claude Moraes was forced out of his post as rapporteur.
MEP Claude Moraes was forced out of his post as rapporteur. / Kiril Konstantinov

Gibraltar downplays 'colony' footnote on no-deal Brexit visa waiver legislation

  • The footnote does not change Gibraltar's status and the government describes it as an attempt to irritate with no practical consequence

As long as the UK government agrees to make it reciprocal, British citizens making short trips to EU countries will not have to obtain a visa even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, following legislation passed by the European Parliament on Thursday. However, this apparently sensible agreement came with a sting in the tail: despite it being irrelevant to this piece of legislation and appearing nowhere in the Withdrawal Agreement or Political Declaration, Spain persuaded enough of the other EU nations to include a footnote describing Gibraltar as a 'Colony of the British Crown', something which has raised tensions, resulted in Czech MEP Petr Jezek resigning as a negotiator and MEP Claude Moraes being forced out of his position as rapporteur after claims from Spain that there was a conflict of interest in this argument because he is British.

There will be a general election in Spain on 28 April and this is being seen as a victory for prime minister Pedro Sánchez, of the socialist PSOE party, who has come under fierce criticism from rival parties for not having taken advantage of Brexit to push for sovereignty over Gibraltar.

However, Gibraltar and the UK have a different perspective, insisting that the footnote makes no difference to the territory's status and is more of an irritant and an attempt to offend than anything else. In a press release on Wednesday, the Gibraltar government said: "It is obvious that extreme pressure exerted by Spain and the bullying tactics of Spanish MEPs, on purely nationalistic grounds, has led to the acceptance of the "colony" language in relation to Gibraltar. This is a disgraceful state of affairs. The possibility of a no-deal Brexit on 12 April has not helped. This meant that many MEPs, who would otherwise have been supportive, also wanted the legislation in place in time for that deadline".

The former Bulgarian prime minister and current president of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergei Stanishev, was brought in as rapporteur to replace Moraes on the EP's LIBE committee, which had until this week unanimously rejected the addition of the footnote. As Moraes had done several times, Stanishev also proposed alternative wordings to satisfy everybody, but was unsuccessful. LIBE passed the motion and it was ratified in the EP plenary session on Thursday, but not unanimously in either case.

However, Stanishev had harsh words for the situation which had arisen over Gibraltar during recent weeks, saying that the footnote was only accepted to protect the interests of EU and British citizens and for no other reason, and accusing the European Council, at Spain's insistence, of putting them at risk through its intransigence. "This is not in the spirit of European cooperation," he said. EU sources say the situation has left a "bad taste in the mouth".