The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, travels to the United Kingdom on Wednesday in what will be his first trip since he assumed the portfolio. The visit was arranged by his predecessor in office, Arancha González Laya, who on several occasions had to postpone it due to the pandemic. In London, the new head of Spanish diplomacy will have to overcome the objections of his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, for whom the mandate approved on Tuesday by the European Commission on future relations between the EU and Gibraltar “conflicts” with the principle agreement reached on December 31st by Spain and the United Kingdom on the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU. “It aims to undermine the sovereignty of the United Kingdom over Gibraltar, and cannot constitute a basis for negotiations,” warned the head of the Foreign Office. “We urge the EU to reconsider,” added Raab.
Along the same lines, the main minister of the Rock, Fabián Picardo, stressed that “the draft mandate of the EU is a matter that concerns them [los socios de la Unión], of course. But I must say that, on the basis of the current draft, there is no possibility of constituting the basis of an agreement ”.
The negotiating mandate approved by the Commission, which should be embodied before the end of the year in a treaty between the United Kingdom and the EU, aims to eliminate controls on the transit of passengers and goods between Gibraltar and Spain. In practice, the British colony would be incorporated into the European Schengen Borderless Area, under the exclusive responsibility of Spain: its residents could move freely through said space for 90 days every six months; while British and third country citizens who want to access Gibraltar would need a visa issued by the Spanish authorities.
One of the thorniest points is that the negotiating mandate approved by the Commission, which includes a detailed 68-point annex, does not mention at any time the presence of Frontex (the European border agency) agents in the port and airport of the Rock, as demanded by London and Gibraltar. Diplomatic sources explained that legally this is not possible, since Spain will be the legal guarantor of these controls at all times, even if the European agency supports it. In the statement issued to account for the approval of the negotiating mandate, it is stated that “the Commission is aware that Spain has expressed its intention to request assistance from Frontex.
In addition, the Commission document indicates that the EU reserves the right to reinstate, unilaterally, the Gibraltar Gate and merchandise controls, as well as withdraw the prerogatives granted, in the event of serious non-compliance by the United Kingdom. This clause reflects the mistrust of the Commission at a time when the UK authorities are questioning the agreement on Northern Ireland that prevented a Brexit Lasted.
The document emphasizes that what is negotiated does not affect the respective positions of Spain and the United Kingdom on the sovereignty of the colony.