Spain will be able to decide who can enter Gibraltar under the terms of a post-Brexit deal, its Foreign Minister has said, sparking a furious response from the Territory’s Chief Minister.
Just hours before the UK formally left the EU a preliminary deal was struck which allows Gibraltar to join the Schengen zone, ensuring free movement of people and goods into the British Overseas Territory.
But in an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper, Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said: “Schengen has a set of rules, procedures and instruments to apply them, including its database, to which only Spain has access. Gibraltar and the United Kingdom do not.
“In order to enter a Gibraltar integrated into the Schengen area, the responsibility for border control is in Spanish hands.
“That is why the final decision on who enters the Schengen area is Spanish, of course.
When pressed if that meant Spain would have the “final say” on who could enter Gibraltar, Ms Laya said: “Of course, because the management of entry control to the Schengen area belongs to Spain.”
She added that there would be a Spanish presence in Gibraltar in order to carry out the minimum Schengen control tasks.
The claim sparked a sharp response from Fabian Picardo, the Territory’s Chief Minister.
He tweeted: “Under the New Year's Eve Agreement only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar & Spanish officers will not exercise any controls in Gibraltar at the Airport or Port now or in four years time. This is our land. Couldn't be clearer.”
Before the pandemic, an average of 28,500 people crossed the border a day, including about 15,000 cross-border workers.
Gibraltar was never part of the Customs Union, but was part of the Single Market.
While the deal has been agreed in principle, it will have to be formally turned into a treaty, which could take six months and see Gibraltar establish closer ties with the EU just after the UK formally severed ties with the bloc.
In the wake of the deal, Boris Johnson tweeted to offer his “wholehearted welcome” to the political agreement on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.
“The UK has always been, and will remain, totally committed to the protection of the interests of Gibraltar and its British sovereignty”, Mr Johnson said.
Under the deal struck, Frontex, the EU’s border force, will “assist Spain” in controlling security at Gibraltar’s airport and port for a transition period of four years.