UK-EU can soon seal post-Brexit Gibraltar border deal

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar has expressed optimism about the progress made towards a post-Brexit deal between the UK, the EU, and Spain, ensuring free movement across the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Following a meeting involving UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, agreement has been reached on longstanding issues that have plagued negotiations for the past five years.

One key aspect of the agreement includes a preliminary pact to establish an EU presence at Gibraltar’s airport, aimed at overseeing the regulation of people and goods entering the EU. Despite Lord Cameron’s departure from Brussels without addressing reporters, both Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and Albares described the meeting as positive and constructive.

Picardo, expressing the proximity to finalizing a treaty, likened the situation to being “within kissing distance,” signifying extreme closeness to a resolution. While acknowledging that negotiations in Brussels had reached their limit, he expressed confidence, rating the progress at “90 or 95” on a scale of one to 100, leaving him “very optimistic” about the outcome.

A significant obstacle has been determining control over Gibraltar’s airport, which, under the proposed free movement agreement, would serve as an external EU border. The UK and Gibraltar have resisted Spain’s demand for Spanish border officials to be stationed at the airport, which also houses an RAF base.

All parties involved are keen to finalize a deal before the EU parliamentary elections in June, aiming to conclude a complex process initiated by the Brexit referendum in 2016, which raised concerns about the potential for a hard border with customs and passport checks between Gibraltar and Spain.

A joint statement from the European Commission, Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar highlighted significant progress, particularly regarding the airport, movement of goods, and mobility. Negotiations will continue in the following weeks to finalize the UK-EU agreement.

With 15,000 commuters crossing the border daily, parallels can be drawn with Ireland, which secured continued free movement with Northern Ireland under the Windsor framework agreed upon in March 2023. However, concerns have been raised by the EU and Spain regarding the possibility that free movement in Gibraltar’s case could allow travelers to move freely into continental Europe.

Gibraltar’s overwhelming support for remaining in the EU, with 96% of voters in the Brexit referendum opting to stay, underscores the territory’s reliance on access to the EU market for its population of 34,000 residing on Spain’s southern tip.

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