Gibraltar fears no-deal with Spain despite Brexit agreement

Clock is still ticking for Gibraltar as it was not included in the UK’s trade deal with the EU

A person crosses the Spanish border from Gibraltar side in front of the Rock of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, after Britain and the European Union agreed terms of a trade deal on Brexit on Thursday, in La Linea de la Concepcion, southern Spain, December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

One British outpost has been left in limbo by the Brexit deal which ushers in a new European landscape on January 1.

Gibraltar, a British overseas territory in the Mediterranean that shares a border with Spain, was excluded from the Brexit deal but will also lose EU rights alongside the UK.

"This deal does not cover Gibraltar. For us, and for the people of the Campo de Gibraltar around us, the clock is still ticking," said Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said that if an agreement is not reached, she fears that the long lines of stranded lorry drivers seen recently at the English Channel crossing could be repeated.

"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," Ms Gonzalez Laya 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.”

The deadline for Gibraltar remains just days away on January 1, when the transitionary period regulating the short frontier between Gibraltar and Spain expires.

If no deal is reached, there are serious concerns that a hard border would cause disruption for the workers, tourists and major business connections across the two sides.

Spain succeeded in convincing the EU to separate the issue of Gibraltar from the wider Brexit negotiations, meaning that Madrid is handling all talks directly with its counterparts in Gibraltar and London.

Throughout the Brexit talks, Spain has insisted it wants a say on the future of Gibraltar.

The Rock was ceded to Britain in 1713 but Spain has never dropped its claim to sovereignty over it. For three centuries, the strategic outcrop of high terrain has given British navies command of the narrow seaway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

"Neither side is going to renounce its pretensions of sovereignty, but we must set that aside to reach a deal that makes lives easier for those living on both sides of the border," said Ms Gonzalez Laya.

More than 15,000 people live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, making up about half of Gibraltar’s labour force.

Gibraltar's population of about 34,000 voted overwhelmingly against Britain leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum.

The post-Brexit trade deal "is a huge relief, given the potential difficulties that a no-deal Brexit might have created for the UK and the European Union", Mr Picardo said.

However, he said that his territory is still at risk.

“We continue to work, hand in glove with the UK, to finalise negotiation with Spain of agreement for a proposed treaty between the EU and the UK in relation to Gibraltar,” he said.

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