LONDON — The Spanish government is pushing for Gibraltar to join the passport-free Schengen zone after the Brexit transition period.
Madrid made its request at a series of meetings with representatives of the governments of Britain and Gibraltar held in the Spanish capital in recent months. The European Commission has been kept abreast of the discussions.
The British government, which handles the foreign affairs of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, is expected to respond to the proposal in two to three weeks’ time, according to EU officials.
The idea is part of Spain’s strategy of “shared responsibility” with the U.K. over the Rock’s affairs after Brexit. Madrid argues that 97 percent of people in Gibraltar voted Remain in 2016, and that means tailored solutions should be found to allow Gibraltar to continue to benefit from as many EU policies as possible, with freedom of movement being one of the priorities. The proposal has the backing of Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
People living on both sides of the Gibraltar-Spain border currently cross regularly in both directions without any paperwork involved, but after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31 their passports would have to be checked if there is no agreement on freedom of movement.
Allowing Gibraltar to participate in Schengen is controversial for the U.K., which refused to participate in the free movement aspect of Schengen while it was part of the EU.
“Does it make sense for the EU that 2.5 square miles at the southernmost tip of Iberia should not be accessible to EU citizens? I don’t think it does,” Picardo told AFP in January. “If you look at other microstates in Europe, they take the benefit of common travel areas with Schengen, even if they’re not entirely part of the Schengen information system.”
However, allowing Gibraltar to participate in Schengen is controversial for the U.K., which refused to participate in the free movement aspect of Schengen while it was part of the EU and is due to leave its law enforcement scheme at the end of the year unless there’s an agreement on security cooperation struck with Brussels.
The U.K. has also not warmed to the idea of “shared responsibility.” In an address to the people of Gibraltar on its National Day Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Gibraltar’s British sovereignty will never change “unless and until” its people say otherwise, adding that the period after the Brexit transition will bring “many glittering opportunities” to the U.K. and the Rock alike.
Unlike the four non-EU countries associated with Schengen (made up of the majority of EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), Gibraltar is not an independent state, so negotiators would need to find an “ad-hoc solution,” EU officials said.
The post-Brexit relationship of Gibraltar with the EU is being discussed in parallel by Spain, the U.K. and Gibraltar with the overall future relationship talks, with a view to achieving a deal that would refer to the wider EU-U.K. future relationship treaty. But the chances of achieving a deal on Gibraltar would be close to none if the bigger negotiations fail, they added.
“The U.K. government has always been clear that Gibraltar is an integral part of our negotiations with the EU and we continue to seek outcomes which support Gibraltar’s interests,” The U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement last week.
This article was updated to include a response from the British government.
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