Gibraltar was not covered by the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed at the end of 2020, however, an “in principle” political agreement on a “proposed framework for a EU/UK agreement or treaty on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU” was reached between Spain and the UK on 31 December 2020.
The discussions on 31 December went to the wire, in a statement at the time the Gibraltar Chief Minister described the discussions as: “So close to the wire that I think all of us involved in the negotiation felt the wire cutting into our flesh as we finalized arrangements in the early hours of this morning.”
The Chief Minister thanked the Spanish Prime Minister for reaching an agreement that looked beyond the disputed issue of sovereignty of the rock. He also thanked both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, at the time, for understanding the need for a differentiated solution for Gibraltar’s “socio-economic and geographic reality”.
Nevertheless, the agreement involved significant compromise on issues usually associated with a sovereign state. Spain, as the neighbouring Schengen member state, will be responsible for the implementation of Schengen. This will be managed by the introduction of a FRONTEX (EU border agency) operation for the control of entry and exit points from the Schengen area at the Gibraltar entry points, for an initial four year period. It will also seek to address maximized and unrestricted mobility of goods between Gibraltar and the European Union. The agreement also touched on a wide range of other issues from the level playing field to citizens’ rights.
The European Commission is currently developing its own mandate for the negotiation of a Treaty, which is expected in the near future. This will then need to be agreed by the European Council before negotiations begin. A key issue for Gibrlatar will be the need to maintain freedom of movement given that 40% of its workforce crosses the border from Spain each day. The overseas territory is also heavily dependent on its offshore banking.
Ahead of today’s meeting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “As a valued member of the UK family, we stand side by side with Gibraltar as we enter into the forthcoming negotiations with the EU on Gibraltar’s future relationship.
“We are committed to delivering a treaty which safeguards the UK’s sovereignty of Gibraltar and supports the prosperity of both Gibraltar and the surrounding region.”
Current relations with the UK in relation to the commitments it made in the Withdrawal Agreement, in particular, on the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol have soured relations with the EU. The UK’s decision to take unilateral action not to implement the agreement reached in October 2019, is seen as an act of bad faith and has provoked the EU to take action on infringing the agreement.