Without agreement and against time

The celebration of the eighteenth round of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Commission in Brussels two weeks ago revealed the obstacles that still exist before signing the treaty that will regulate the future relationship with the British colony. The bulk of the points have been resolved, but airport management and people movement continue to put pressure on progress.

“In Gibraltar, negotiations are continuing longer than expected,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said on Thursday. Some words that angered Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Paris.

The issue is not trivial. The Greek comment by Schinas was confirmation of an open secret: negotiations have reached a dead end after more than three years of progress. The vice president of the Community's executive body admitted that in response to the offer to have Frontex be the body responsible for supervising the passage of Spanish workers through the gate, “our British friends think Frontex is too European.”

His words unleashed anger and were interpreted as a blow to the head of Spanish diplomacy, who confirmed in 2022 that an agreement was imminent. The anger in the Viana Palace was so intense that that same night, the ministry headed by Paris issued a brief statement jointly signed by the person in charge of the negotiations in Brussels, Markus Sefcovic, in which they noted that “the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom regarding Gibraltar It progressed as planned, and the text read: “We are entering a sensitive phase.”

Although London and Brussels do not want to talk about deadlines and appointments, the reality is that the holding of the European elections in June and the predictable electoral lead in the United Kingdom, where opinion polls indicate that the Conservatives will exit Labour's return to Downing Street gives some urgency to the agreement. If it is not finalized in the coming weeks, it will be up to the new European Commission and the new British government to complete its negotiations, potentially delaying the entire process that has already lasted forty months since the “historic” New Year’s Eve agreement.

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Minister Albarez has repeated throughout these months that Spain, that is, the European Union, has sent an agreement to the United Kingdom, and therefore “the ball is in the court” of the United Kingdom. As these media learned, The UK has also put another agreement on the table to govern the future relationship after Brexit.

Under the name “Co-Prosperity Zone”However, the plan that the negotiating teams are working on is to remove the fence to ensure the smooth flow of people's traffic. Moreover, according to the Brussels plan – over which Spain has the final say – our country will, in the name of Schengen, control the external borders of Gibraltar, that is, control the airport. This is precisely the case, as Spanish agents are responsible for monitoring and departing the goods from the airport, which would delay its approval.

Four years after London's final exit from the United Kingdom, The status of Gibraltar remains the only remaining obstacle. The border issue between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which was initially more difficult, was resolved last year. However, in the case of the Rock, the identification of new border controls at the port and airport, as well as the various security forces involved in controlling it, are slowing down its signing. To this obstacle we must add the formula for joint use of Gibraltar Airport requested by Spain and rejected by the United Kingdom, which will not give the green light to anything that questions its sovereignty over the colony.

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Stress and time pressure. Evidence of the keenness to reach this agreement as quickly as possible is that last February, the British Parliament was the scene of a debate on Gibraltar, coinciding with the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Routley. During his speech in the House of Representatives, UK Under-Secretary of State David Routley stressed that the UK “remains steadfast” in its support for Gibraltar and that it “will not accept anything that prejudices its sovereignty.”

As the countdown begins, the UK and Gibraltar are already working towards a potential no-deal scenario. Gibraltar puts an alternative plan on the table in the event that negotiations falter and are not implemented. In fact, at the end of November last year, Al-Sakhra made its move and prepared its companies for the possibility of failure of the negotiations. In a technical note, he presented his plan: the “Non-Negotiated Outcome” (NNO). In that document, companies warned that controls, if no agreement is reached, will be systematic and comprehensive, so queues of several hours at the border can be expected. Delays may worsen during peak hours. This is a situation we are already witnessing at the border, where Brexit has been implemented for months.

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