Spain’s government will allow Gibraltarians to continue to hold jobs in the Spanish public sector and work in professions that require EU residency even after the Brexit transition period ends on 31st December.
Under the decree passed by the Madrid government on Tuesday, Gibraltarians will also be allowed to study on the same terms as Spaniards in Spanish universities.
The arrangements concerning the British territory of Gibraltar, on the southern tip of Spain, will be welcomed by Gibraltarians as other aspects of a wider deal are being thrashed out.
The territory was not included in the landmark Brexit deal on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, agreed between Brussels and London on 24th December.
So with the aim of avoiding a hard border between Gibraltar and Spain, the governments in Madrid, London and Gibraltar are in a final push to negotiate a deal ahead of January 1st, the date on which the Brexit transition period ends and new rules apply.
Gibraltar in Schengen?
Special status will be given to cross-border workers travelling between Spain and Gibraltar, even if no deal is reached. Around 15 thousand cross daily, mostly from Spain into Gibraltar to work in tourism or the financial sector.
Spain favours the removal of the border fence, making Gibraltar effectively part of the Schengen area which allows the free-movement of people between 26 European states. But Gibraltar’s airport and port would then become de facto points of entry into the EU.
Negotiations between Gibraltar, London and Madrid are currently stalled over the issue of who would police these entrances.
Spain has indicated that it would accept the EU Frontex border agency controlling the entrance to the port and airport so long as it reported to Spain, with Spain policing the external EU border. However, the Gibraltar government rejects the notion of Spanish officials policing Gibraltarian borders.
Tighter customs controls
Whatever happens, the movement of goods between Gibraltar and Spain will be subject to tighter customs controls from January 1st.
Gibraltar imports nearly all of its food, much of it via the land border with Spain. The Gibraltar authorities have extended port facilities and contracted a ferry service to bring goods from the nearby Spanish port of Algeciras, in case no deal is agreed and all food has to be imported by sea.
However, Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo said on Sunday that he remained “optimistic” that an agreement would be reached and he sounded confident in a recent tweet.
The territory is one of Europe’s most prosperous regions. In a study for the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, economist John Fletcher of Bournemouth University in Britain concluded that maintaining a border “as free and frictionless as possible” would be better for Gibraltar, Britain and Spain.
The territory is home to 34,000 people in a land area of only 6.8 km2. It was ceded by Spain in perpetuity to Britain in 1713 after a military struggle but Madrid has long wanted it back.