Gibraltar has slapped down Spain‘s claim to have the final say on who enters the British territory, setting the stage for more wrangling over sovereignty.
Chief minister Fabian Picardo today tersely declared that ‘this is our land’ after Madrid’s top diplomat said her government would oversee cross-border travel.
The row comes a mere two days after an 11th-hour post-Brexit deal was struck to integrate Gibraltar into the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone to avert a hard border.
Almost 30,000 people crossed between Spain and Gibraltar every day before the pandemic, half of whom were workers.
That Spain has access to Schengen’s database and the UK does not means it now will police who enters Gibraltar, foreign minister Arancha González Laya insisted.
Chief minister Fabian Picardo today tersely declared that ‘this is our land’ after Madrid’s top diplomat said her government would oversee cross-border travel
That Spain has access to Schengen’s database and the UK does not means it now will police who enters Gibraltar, foreign minister Arancha González Laya (pictured) insisted
She told El Pais newspaper: ‘Schengen has a set of rules, procedures and instruments to apply them, including its database, to which only Spain has access. Gibraltar and the United Kingdom do not.
‘In order to enter a Gibraltar integrated into the Schengen area, the responsibility for border control is in Spanish hands.
‘That is why the final decision on who enters the Schengen area is Spanish, of course.’
Mr Picardo quickly challenged her interpretation and rejected her claim to control arrivals.
He tweeted: ‘Under the New Year’s Eve Agreement only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar & Spanish officers will not exercise any controls in Gibraltar at the Airport or Port now or in four years time. This is our land. Couldn’t be clearer.’
Gibraltar’s new travel arrangements with Spain came into force at 11pm London time on New Year’s Eve, when the UK’s Brexit transition period ended.
With a land area of just 6.8-square kilometres, Gibraltar is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents
Boris Johnson offered his ‘wholehearted welcome’ to the deal and underscored his commitment to preserving the protection of the interests of Gibraltar and its British sovereignty’.
Schengen covers most of the 27 EU members, along with Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Gibraltar’s arrangement will be in place for an initial four-year period.
Even when the UK was in the EU, it never joined Schengen, meaning passports were requited to travel to EU member states.
With a land area of just 6.8-square kilometres, Gibraltar is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents.
A No Deal scenario would have slowed the cross-border movement of goods with new customs procedures.
Border fluidity is also key for some 15,000 people who cross into Gibraltar every day to work, accounting for half of the territory’s workforce. Most are Spanish and live in the impoverished neighbouring area of La Linea.
In the 2016 referendum, Gibraltar voted 96 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU.
Its status as a British overseas territory has always been a thorny issue and remains disputed by Madrid.
Gibraltar: Britain’s Rock on the Med since 1713
Gibraltar is a rocky 2.6-square mile peninsular just 10 miles from north Africa.
It was formally ceded in perpetuity to Britain in 1713 under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht which brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession.
Named in Arabic ‘Jabal Tariq’, after the Muslim commander Tariq Ibn-Ziyad who turned the Rock into a fortress in 711, it has been an important naval base for more than 1,000 years.
That long maritime history explains its diverse population, with many residents of mixed Genoese, British, Spanish and Maltese descent.
Most Gibraltarians can speak both English and Spanish.
As a British overseas territory, it is home to a military garrison and has a naval base. But over the past few decades, the EU has sought to put pressure on London and Madrid to resolve its future status.
The Rock’s 2006 constitution stipulates that there can be no transfer of sovereignty to Spain against the wishes of its voters.
In a referendum in 2002, Gibraltarians resoundingly rejected the idea of joint sovereignty.
Free travel between Spain and Gibraltar was fully restored in 1985, but travellers continued to suffer delays at the border.
In late 2006, passenger flights between Spain and Gibraltar resumed for the first time in nearly 30 years, though seven years later there were renewed border checks by Spain in response to a Gibraltarian plan to build an artificial reef.
The 2006 air link was restored after Gibraltar, Spain and Britain signed agreements aimed at improving living conditions on the Rock.