EU and UK 'getting closer' to clinching post-Brexit border and transit deal for Gibraltar

EU and UK 'getting closer' to clinching post-Brexit border and transit deal for Gibraltar

High-level political discussions aimed at closing a deal on post-Brexit border and transit arrangements for Gibraltar ended without an agreement in Brussels on Thursday.

The self-governing British overseas territory ceased to be part of the EU with the UK’s formal exit from the bloc in 2020, but it was excluded from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that defined the post-Brexit EU-UK relationship.

Thursday's meeting between Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič was the second of its kind in a month.

Talks have recently intensified, with the EU hoping to strike an agreement that would tie up the last loose end of Brexit just in time for the European elections in June, the first since the UK’s formal EU exit.

Šefčovič told reporters that Thursday's discussions "took place in a constructive atmosphere" with "additional breakthroughs" in areas of a potential future agreement.

The UK's foreign office said in a statement that "all sides are reassured that the agreement is getting closer and will work closely and rapidly on outstanding areas towards an overall EU-UK agreement."

Šefčovič also said technical teams would proceed to hammer out new proposals based on the ideas pitched in the meeting as soon as tomorrow.

"Today's meeting reaffirmed our shared commitment to bringing confidence, legal certainty and stability to the lives and livelihoods of the people of the campo de Gibraltar," the European Commission Vice-President added.

But Šefčovič also acknowledged remaining sticking points in the negotiations, which he refrained from detailing.

Gibraltar, also known as the Rock, is located on the southern tip of Spain and has historically been the subject of friction with the UK, which ardently defends its sovereignty over the territory. Madrid claims sovereignty over parts of Gibraltar and has called for the territory’s “decolonisation.”

These tensions were revived following the UK’s decision to exit the European Union, a move once described by Gibraltar chief minister Picardo himself as an "existential threat" to the territory’s economy, and which sparked fears of a hard border with customs and passport checks between Gibraltar and neighbouring Spain.

A staggering 96% of Gibraltar’s population voted against Brexit.

Talks have stalled in recent years over disagreements between the UK and Spain on how to manage the Gibraltar-Spain border, and arrangements for Gibraltar’s airport, which is used by the UK’s Royal Air Forces (RAF) and for commercial flights.

Spain has called for Spanish or EU border officials to be based at the airport. It also wants Schengen border checks to be conducted for airport arrivals in order to avoid checks on the Spain-Gibraltar border.

But these proposals are considered to cross the UK's red lines. Lord Cameron has faced mounting pressure from the House of Commons' European scrutiny committee, which recently accused him of “allowing the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of the EU” meaning that Gibraltar would become a British overseas territory “in name only.”

All parties say they will remain in close contact, with Šefčovič saying he hoped for a deal as soon as possible.