LONDON — The U.K. is working on a no-deal scenario for Gibraltar in case its negotiations with the EU on the territory’s post-Brexit status fail, a British minister said.
Wendy Morton, U.K. minister for the European neighborhood, told lawmakers Wednesday that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office — together with the government of Gibraltar — are already working on a “non-negotiated outcome” for the British Overseas Territory.
Spain and the U.K. struck an 11th-hour deal at the end of 2020 to avoid a hard border between Gibraltar and Spain. The deal allowed Gibraltar to become part of the Schengen passport-free area, with the sponsorship of Madrid. It paved the way for the demolition of the controversial 1.2-kilometer physical barrier separating both territories, by moving border checks to Gibraltar’s port and airport.
However, the agreement is not legally binding and must be transformed into an international treaty between the EU and the U.K., for which negotiations must take place this year. The Commission’s draft mandate for those talks, published in July, has failed to gain the support of the British government, which says it contradicts the agreement reached with Spain.
“It’s fair to say that the U.K. and Gibraltar governments are working really, really closely on this to make sure we have robust plans in place and that we are well prepared in all eventualities,” Morton told the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee. “And that includes if we find ourselves in a no-deal situation.”
Madrid and London had hoped that negotiations between the Commission and the U.K. could start last summer and conclude by the end of the year. But the talks cannot begin until the leaders of the EU’s 27 member countries give their approval to the Commission’s draft mandate.
Morton insisted that draft mandate “undermines the U.K. sovereignty over Gibraltar and cannot form the basis for negotiations.”
The document, she added, “ignores the crucial role” of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, in carrying out the frontline Schengen checks in Gibraltar, and instead proposes that Spanish officials carry out this task.
It also “overrides” the agreement in principle by granting Madrid power to issue visas and residence permits for Gibraltar, to make decisions on asylum claims made in Gibraltar, and to enforce the law on the ground, Morton said.
The U.K. minister argued that the Commission is proposing a “wholesale application” of EU law as well as a governance framework which is “totally disproportionate to the small scale of goods” which flow between Gibraltar and the EU. She pointed to 2020 figures showing the EU exported €3.8 billion in goods to Gibraltar, whereas the Rock exported €160 million in goods to the EU.
However, Morton refused to say whether the U.K. would reject entering negotiations with the EU if the Commission’s mandate is not changed.
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