Social media has been agog since Tuesday when a Spanish newspaper published a story saying that Gibraltar was becoming part of the Schengen system. It would mean that British citizens arriving from the UK would be subject to passport control at the airport, while Spanish citizens could enter freely. Gibraltarians would be able to access Spain across the present land border with no controls. The article said that as Gibraltar refuses to allow Spanish officers to control its airport and port, officers from the EU’s Frontex force would do so instead.
Unsurprisingly, the article caused a bit of a furore, with people claiming that Gibraltarians would have more rights than UK citizens, although Gibraltar is in a unique situation because of its geographical location and has unique issues to deal with, such as more than 14,000 workers crossing into Gibraltar from Spain to work each day.
The response, and misinformation, were so great that Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, was interviewed by a local television channel to explain the situation as it stands at the moment.
Nothing has been agreed, he said, and it is possible that it will not be, although he had said in a radio interview earlier in the week that “we are within a few phrases of a historic deal”.
He declined to confirm or deny the story which had appeared in the original newspaper, been picked up by the international press and then gone viral on the internet, but reiterated that Gibraltar had always made it clear it was seeking a deal which would allow unrestricted access across the land border for goods and people. This did not, he stressed, affect the sovereignty of Gibraltar in any way whatsoever, as this was a red line which had always been absolutely uncrossable.
Spain also has uncrossable red lines, he said, so what both sides are trying to do is find a solution for the border which means that nobody’s red lines are crossed.
Picardo pointed out that Gibralar has a border with the UK at present, so if an agreement were reached it would be to maintain the existing circumstances, not impose extra controls or regulations. Meanwhile, the land border with Spain is lighter in terms of controls, although passports and ID can be checked and searches for illicit goods can be carried out, so the agreement would aim to maintain that relationship as much as possible. If no agreement is reached about Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU, border officials will have to wet stamp every passport, which would undoubtedly lead to very long delays.
When asked if any agreement of this type would mean Gibraltar is getting closer to the EU than the UK, he denied this, saying being British is in Gibraltarians’ blood and nothing would change that.