Brexit: Spain warns of border ‘chaos’ ahead of deadline for Gibraltar deal

Gibraltar’s chief minister has called on the UK and Spain to “grasp the nettle of history” with just days left to secure a post-Brexit border deal for the peninsula.

Known as ‘The Rock’, the British territory was not part of the post-Brexit trade deal agreed between the EU and UK on Christmas Eve.

Although Gibraltarians will enjoy the rights of British citizens included under the terms of the agreement, the deal makes no provisions for the post-Brexit border between Spain and Gibraltar.

The issue was carved out from the wider trade talks between London and Brussels and has been the subject of bilateral negotiations between the UK government and Spain.

But those talks have yet to reach a resolution ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, Gibraltar‘s chief minister Fabian Picardo warned “the clock is still ticking” ahead of that deadline, as he called for a “final push” to reach a deal.

“The time has come to grasp the nettle of history, and the nettle stings less if you grab it tight,” he said.

“We can each win only if we all win. And we will definitely all lose if one of us loses.

“So this is a moment where we have the choice to make for our people, of whether we ensure that none of us loses at this table even if none of us wins, or we ensure that all of us wins to ensure that none of us loses.

“It’s that clear. I’m optimistic that we can get there.”

Gibraltar has been a British territory since 1713, with its citizens voting overwhelmingly, with 99% in favour, to remain under UK sovereignty at a 2002 referendum.

However, Spain has long maintained its own claim to Gibraltar, which sits off the country’s southern coast, and has previously used the Brexit process to press the issue.

Mr Picardo called on both sides to set aside the long-running sovereignty dispute in the negotiations, adding: “Surely, we can defeat the 300 years of history that we’ve put behind us and look forward to a better future for our children.”

Both the UK and Spain are seeking to limit the impact of Brexit on everyday life in Gibraltar.

Around 15,000 Spaniards cross the border to work in Gibraltar every day, making up about half the territory’s labour force.

Spanish foreign minister Arancha González Laya last week warned of border disruption, similar to the recent scenes in Kent, without an agreement.

“We do not have much time, and the scenes of chaos from the UK must remind us that we need to keep working to reach a deal on Gibraltar,” she told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE.

“Spaniards want one, the people of Gibraltar want one, now the UK needs to desire one as well. Political will is needed.”

Following the announcement of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU on Christmas Eve, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK, side by side with the Government of Gibraltar, has held constructive discussions with Spain regarding future relationship issues relating to Gibraltar.

“All sides acknowledged the challenging nature of this process at the outset of talks.

“Although an agreement has not yet been reached on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU, we will continue our discussions with Spain to safeguard Gibraltar’s interests, and those of the surrounding region.

“In addition, we are also working closely with the Government of Gibraltar, in discussion with Spain and the EU, to mitigate the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar.

“We are totally committed to protecting Gibraltar’s interests. That includes ensuring border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the communities that live on both sides.”

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