The keenly-awaited negotiations over Gibraltar’s future relationship with the European Union are now able to begin, as the European Council has today, Tuesday 5 October, approved the European Commission’s mandate for the talks.
These will be based on the framework agreed by Gibraltar, the UK and Spain on 31 December last year, in what has become known as the New Year’s Agreement. That was an agreement in principle, which covered a number of aspects but the one which has aroused the most interest was the idea that Gibraltar, which like the UK has never been part of Schengen, could have tailor-made access to the Schengen area.
If this is agreed, it will mean that the existing land border between Spain and Gibraltar would disappear and the external Schengen border will be at Gibraltar’s airport and port. The control of such a border has been the subject of debate: normally it would be controlled by Spain, but the Gibraltar government insisted that this would be unacceptable and proposed that the border should be controlled by the EU’s Frontex force instead.
If this were to be the case, then entry to Gibraltar from the UK would be exactly as it is now: arrivals are controlled by the Gibraltar Borders Agency and all passengers, including the British, have to show photo ID. The only difference would be that all passengers would then pass through a Schengen control – in a way, this is not unlike the existing system at the land border, where those wishing to cross into Gibraltar have to show ID to the authorities of both countries.
If agreement can be reached, it will be in force for four years and the parties would then decide whether they wished to continue, make changes or terminate it. Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo has always been adamant that his government will accept nothing that is not in Gibraltar’s interests or which threatens its sovereignty, and that he is prepared to walk away from the talks if this were to be the case.
Although Gibraltar led the negotiations which resulted in the New Year’s Eve agreement, it is the UK government which will hold the talks with the EU, because it is responsible for Gibraltar’s international relations. This does not, however, mean that the UK could agree anything on Gibraltar’s behalf without Gibraltar’s authorisation. If agreement is reached, it will become a Treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which cannot be overturned by any subsequent change of governments.