Armed Spanish police must be allowed inside Gibraltar, Madrid demands

Spanish police Gibraltar
The Spanish government has said armed and uniformed police should be allowed to operate on the Rock - JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

The Spanish government has sparked alarm by saying that armed and uniformed Spanish police officers should have boots on the ground in Gibraltar.

Madrid said that the Policia Nacional had to take the lead in manning border posts in Gibraltar airport, with EU officials having an “auxiliary” role.

Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Conservative MP, said he was “deeply concerned” by Madrid’s ambitions and “worried” that Parliament would not be able to scrutinise ongoing negotiations over the Rock because it will be dissolved this week.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory situated on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, where it shares a border with Spain. For months, discussions have been taking place between the EU and Britain over the management of Gibraltar’s border following Brexit.

To keep the border open, proposals have been made for EU officials to carry out immigration controls at the airport. Checking arrivals there would allow the Rock to join the passport-free Schengen Area, eliminating the need for identity controls at its border with Spain.

However, such plans are controversial because the airport is a joint civil-military facility that doubles as the RAF station in Gibraltar. The issue is also highly sensitive because Spain has consistently claimed sovereignty over the territory.

Fabian Picardo, the UK Government and Gibraltar’s chief minister, has said that any border posts would be operated by EU Frontex officials. But a newly published statement from the Spanish government makes it clear that it is pushing for its own police force to take the lead.

In a response to a question from the Spanish senate, the Spanish government said it expected armed uniformed officers of the Policia Nacional to implement the border controls at the airport and maritime entry points.

The statement, which was first reported by the Gibraltar Chronicle, said: “The Policia Nacional must carry out border controls. If Frontex agents are present, their role should be to support and complement the Policia Nacional.

“Therefore, the responsibility for conducting border inspections lies with the Policia Nacional, with Frontex serving an auxiliary function.”

The Spanish government said that the Policia Nacional must be “able to move freely throughout the entire border area” and that officers “must serve in uniform” and would “carry weapons while performing their duties”.

While the governments of the UK and Gibraltar have insisted that uniformed Spanish officers will not have a presence on the Rock, the Chronicle reported that the statement was understood to be Madrid’s negotiation offering.

Sir Bill, the chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, which has been examining the Government’s negotiations, told The Telegraph that he was alarmed by the proposals. “As a concerned UK citizen, I remain very deeply concerned indeed.”

“The Spanish are insisting on their police acting inside UK sovereign territory. Apart from border and Schengen issues, there are absolutely vital defence issues affected.”

He went on: “Compromises in these matters is in my view impossible, but it appears to be on the cards.”

Sir Bill said that UK sovereignty over Gibraltar was a “vital national interest”. “This is a UK-EU treaty and there must be no compromise on national sovereignty for these reasons. We must not be hoodwinked.”

With Parliament to be formally dissolved on Thursday, he said there was a risk that the Spanish government could cut a deal behind closed doors with the EU while political and media attention is absorbed by the election.

He said: “I’m deeply worried because when Parliament isn’t sitting - and it won’t sit now for six weeks - in the meantime the government is still the government and it could still continue to do things, and I’m profoundly concerned that things may be done which are not in British national interests as a result of trying to do a deal with the EU.”

The Telegraph understands that political negotiations will not take place during the election purdah period.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokeswoman said: “The UK will only reach an agreement with the EU which: the Government of Gibraltar is content with; safeguards Gibraltar’s sovereignty; and fully protects the operations and independence of the UK’s military facilities in Gibraltar.

“The UK, working side-by-side with the Government of Gibraltar, remains committed to concluding an agreement that will benefit Gibraltar, its people and its economy.”