Gibraltar: Morton discusses priorities in post-Brexit relations
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The UK and EU have published their negotiations mandates on the Gibraltar issue, but a British Minister this week criticised the bloc for its undermining of the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar. Ministers have urged the European Commission to “think again” and revealed the UK is working on a “no-deal scenario” with Gibraltar in case the two sides are unable to reach a post-Brexit agreement.
Minister Wendy Morton revealed the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is working with the Government to create a “non-negotiated outcome” for the British Overseas Territory.
The territory, located on Spain’s south coast, is not covered by the existing trade deal between the UK and EU which regulates tariffs and the movement of people.
Instead, Gibraltar relies upon temporary arrangements to keep its critical connection with Spain each day.
The UK and Spain struck an 11th-hour deal at the end of 2020 in a bid to avoid a hard border between Gibraltar and Spain.
The deal enabled Gibraltar to become part of the Schengen passport-free area, with the sponsorship of Madrid, and would be achieved by moving border checks to Gibraltar’s ports and airports.
The agreement paved the way for the demolition of the controversial 0.7 miles (1.2km) physical barrier separating both territories.
The problem with this deal is that it is not legally binding and must be transformed into an international treaty between the EU and the UK.
The European Commission’s draft mandate for these negotiations, which must take place this year, failed to gain support from the UK Government, however
The draft proposal, published in July, is said to contradict the current arrangement Britain has with Spain.
Speaking at the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms Morton said: “It’s fair to say that the UK and Gibraltar governments are working really, really closely on this to make sure we have robust plans in place and that we are well prepared in all eventualities.
“And that includes if we find ourselves in a no-deal situation.”
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Madrid and London had hoped the negotiations would begin last summer and conclude by the end of this year.
However, talks cannot officially launch until all 27 EU member states approve the Commission’s draft mandate.
But the UK has said the mandate is unacceptable in its current form.
Ms Morton added the proposal from the EU “undermines the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar and cannot form the basis for negotiations.”
The British Minister said the document in particular “ignores the crucial role” of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, in carrying out the frontline Schengen checks in Gibraltar.
Instead of using these designated bodies, the Commission proposes delegating this task to Spanish officials.
Furthermore, the draft mandate from the Commission “overrides” the agreement in principle by empowering Madrid with the right to issue visas and permits for Gibraltar, as well as making decisions on asylum claims, Ms Morton said.
The UK official added Spain has also been given the power to enforce the law on the ground which contrasts the current agreement.
Ms Morton argued the Commission is proposing a “wholesale application” of EU law in the British Overseas.
She said a Government framework in the area is “totally disproportionate to the small scale of goods” which are imported and exported from Gibraltar to the EU.
In 2020, the EU exported £3.26bn (€3.8 billion) in goods to Gibraltar.
Conversely, Gibraltar exported £137m (€160m) in goods to the EU.
The European neighbourhood Minister did not reveal whether the UK intends to reject entering negotiations on the Gibraltar issue if the Commission does not alter its mandate to reflect British demands.
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