Barcelona, Spain (AFP) While the cork may have emerged in London and Brussels at the end of a four-year saga known as Brexit, there is only one rocky patch of British soil that remains in limbo.
Gibraltar, a British colony off the southern tip of mainland Spain, was not included in the Brexit deal announced on Christmas Eve between the European Union and the United Kingdom to reorganize trade and trade relations between the now-composed bloc of 27 countries. The first country to leave the group.
The deadline for Gibraltar remains January 1, when a transition period governing the short border between Gibraltar and Spain ends. If no deal is reached, there are serious concerns that the tough borders could disrupt workers, tourists and key business connections across both sides.
Spain has persuaded the European Union to separate the Gibraltar issue from the Brexit negotiations, which means that Madrid conducts all talks directly with its counterparts in Gibraltar and London.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laia said Thursday that if no agreement is reached, she fears that long lines of stranded truck drivers who were seen crossing the English Channel last week will be repeated.
“We don’t have much time, and the scenes of chaos from the UK should remind us that we need to continue working to reach an agreement on Gibraltar,” Gonzales Laia told Spanish television station RTVE. “The Spanish want one, the people of Gibraltar want one, and now the UK needs to want it too. There is a need for political will.”
Throughout the Brexit talks, Spain has insisted it wants to have a say in the future of Gibraltar.
The rock was ceded to Britain in 1713, but Spain did not relinquish its claim to sovereignty over it. Over a period of three centuries, the strategic prominence of the Highlands gave the British navy command of the narrow sea passage from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
“Neither side will give up its claim to sovereignty, but we must put that aside to reach an agreement that facilitates the lives of those who live on both sides of the border,” said Laia.
Gonzalez Laia said negotiations with the United Kingdom are ongoing, adding that she believes “a deal in principle is completely possible” by the end of the year.
“The best sign that Spain is really trying to reach an agreement is that it is not discussing (the negotiations) publicly,” she said during an Internet press conference.
More than 15,000 people live and work in Spain in Gibraltar, and make up about 50% of the workforce in Gibraltar. Gibraltar’s population of around 34,000 was firmly against Britain leaving the European Union. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 96% of voters in Gibraltar supported staying in the continental bloc they feel gives them more leverage to engage with the government in Madrid.
The region can still remember how in 1969 Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco closed the borders in an attempt to destroy Gibraltar’s economy.
Gibraltar’s Prime Minister, Fabienne Picardo, said the post-Brexit trade agreement “represents a great relief given the potential difficulties that a no-deal Brexit could create for the UK and the European Union.”
But he added that his territory was still in danger.
This deal does not cover Gibraltar. “For us and the people of Gibraltar around us, the clock is still ticking,” Picardo said in a statement.
“We continue to work, side by side with the United Kingdom, to finalize negotiations with Spain on a proposed agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom regarding Gibraltar,” he said.
Picardo told Spanish radio station Cadena SER recently that “an agreement on the Schengen method would be the most positive outcome” to facilitate 30 million annual border crossings between Gibraltar and Spain.
The Schengen area in Europe consists of about twenty countries that have agreed to cancel general travel checks within the group, although some local checks have been reintroduced due to the epidemic. Britain is not in the Schengen group.
The government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was committed to finding a solution that included “ensuring the border’s liquidity, which is clearly in the interest of the communities living on both sides.”
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