Spain ready to sign post-Brexit Gibraltar deal, says foreign minister

<span>Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters

Spain is ready to sign a deal on the post-Brexit status of Gibraltar as early as Wednesday, the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, has said before a meeting in Brussels with his British counterpart, David Cameron.

The deal will centre on trade, immigration and the movement of workers to and from Spain. According to Spain’s Efe news agency, it will include plans to turn the Campo de Gibraltar – the Spanish area around Gibraltar – into a “zone of shared prosperity” that would eliminate the border fence so as to allow the movement of people and goods between the territory and the EU.

Albares said he had spoken with Cameron by phone on Monday and they had agreed to meet in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon to further discuss the status of the territory at the southern tip of Spain, which has been under British rule since the 18th century.

“We put a generous and balanced deal on the table many months ago,” Albares said in an interview with the Spanish TV station Telecinco on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels, Albares added: “I think this deal – this ‘zone of ahead prosperity’ in the Campo de Gibraltar – is better for everyone than the application of European legislation after British citizens democratically decided to leave the European Union.

“There’s already been political will on the part of the Spanish government for many months. There’s nothing new for me to add. What’s needed now is that political will on the part of the United Kingdom to move forward decisively, which is what I’ve seen so far. But we won’t know until the end. Nothing will be agreed until it’s all agreed.”

Although Spain wants to sign the deal as soon as possible, Albares said he would discuss possible timeframes for finalising the agreement with Cameron.

Sources in Brussels were cautious, saying there “[was] a long way to go”, with a meeting between the EU and the UK expected in the coming weeks.

The status of Gibraltar – and how to police the border with Spain – has been a point of contention since Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016.

Related: ‘Mountain of trash’: how Gibraltar was almost buried under post-Brexit rubbish pile

Trade and free movement were not part of the exit deal reached between the UK and the EU.

Although there are similarities between Gibraltar and Northern Ireland – which has a separate set of Brexit trade arrangements – officials caution that a trade deal between the EU and Gibraltar would centre on full alignment with EU standards.

Under the Windsor framework for Northern Ireland arrangements, certain goods, such as fresh farm produce, have to meet EU standards if they are to be sold onwards to the republic of Ireland.

In Gibraltar’s case, a deal would centre on goods crossing the border into the EU, hence the need for full alignment with EU rules and regulations.

As part of the Brexit negotiations, Spain, Britain and the EU agreed Gibraltar would remain part of EU agreements, such as the Schengen area, and Spain would police the port and the airport, pending a lasting solution.

Albares said the aim was to establish a new, post-Brexit legal framework to “lay the foundations for a stable relationship between Spain and the EU on the one hand and the territory of Gibraltar, through the UK, on the other”.

Related: ‘Mountain of trash’: how Gibraltar was almost buried under post-Brexit rubbish pile

According to the Spanish foreign ministry, the deal would allow Spain to use the Schengen agreement to control Gibraltar’s external borders. It would also allow Spain to protect and improve the rights of cross-border workers and would facilitate the free movement of goods “without increasing the risks for the EU internal market”.

The agreement would include steps to combat money laundering and guarantee environmental protection and nuclear safety standards.

The primary aim, Albares said, was “the defence and protection of the interests and rights” of Spanish citizens, in particular, the 270,000 people who live in the Campo de Gibraltar.

The minister stressed that Spain’s position on Gibraltar’s sovereignty remained unchanged.

“Neither the future agreement, nor any option or measure taken in application or as a result thereof, imply or will imply any renouncing or modification of the legal position of Spain with respect to sovereignty and jurisdiction in relation to Gibraltar,” he said.