British visitors to Gibraltar could face Schengen checks under new Brexit proposals

Rock steady: British Airways Airbus A320 at Gibraltar airport (Simon Calder)
Rock steady: British Airways Airbus A320 at Gibraltar airport (Simon Calder)

British visitors to Gibraltar could face Schengen Area checks on touchdown, according to the minister conducting post-Brexit negotiations with the European Commission.

At present passengers arriving at Gibraltar airport go through the territory’s passport control. Travellers who wish to enter Spain – part of the Schengen Area – pass through a separate frontier post a few hundred metres away.

But the Europe minister, Leo Docherty, told MPs on the European Scrutiny Committee has said that new proposals would see the current Gibraltar-Spain border disappear.

“Instead, those arriving in Gibraltar would pass through Gibraltar immigration, followed by Schengen immigration,” he writes.

This arrangement would appear to require British travellers to comply with the full range of post-Brexit requirements, including restrictions on passport validity.

Instead of the present rules, which allow access to Gibraltar up to and including the expiry date of the passport, the document would need to be less than 10 years old on the day of arrival and have at least three months remaining on the day of departure.

In addition, any time spent in Gibraltar could count towards the maximum of 90 days’ stay in 180 days, which the UK negotiated as part of the Brexit agreement. Many British travellers, particularly those with properties abroad, have seen their movements restricted by this rule.

The Foreign Office currently says: “Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen Area. British nationals do not need a visa to enter Gibraltar for visits, study or work.”

But assuming full Schengen Area rules are applied, British people travelling for work or study may need visas.

Mr Docherty sought to allay the concerns of MPs on the committee by saying: “We are seeking to conclude the practical details of a mobility arrangement with the Schengen Area, not membership of it.

“Ensuring fluid movement of people across the border with Spain has been the key area of discussion.

“The UK will only agree to terms that the Government of Gibraltar are content with and will not agree to anything that compromises sovereignty.”

The minister also said that some form of joint use of the territory’s airport – “to facilitate flights between Gibraltar and the EU” – was under discussion.

“This could further the economic opportunities of the region,” he wrote.

The letter brought a furious reaction from Sir William Cash, chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. He wrote to Mr Docherty: “It is with great concern that I read your letter dated today on UK/EU Gibraltar negotiations.

“What you describe, in effect, as having been agreed in principle between the Government and the European Commission is deeply troubling. The Government has been clear on its red lines regarding Gibraltar negotiations, including issues pertaining to sovereignty, jurisdiction and control.

“Talk of Schengen border checks in Gibraltar, the notion of a ‘level playing field’ for cross border trade and ‘flexibility’ regarding joint UK/Spain management of Gibraltar airport is alarming and does not accord with what you have previously described to us concerning the Government’s approach to – and progress of – Gibraltar negotiations.”

In his letter, Sir William “requires” Mr Docherty to appear before the committee today.

He ends by writing: “Given the seriousness of this issue, I am copying this letter to the Prime Minister.”

Watch Simon Calder’s film on 48 Hours in Gibraltar