In the midst of the UK’s transition out of the EU, Gibraltar, a UK territory on the southern coast of Spain, is lobbying for open borders.
With a population of only 32,000 and close economic ties with surrounding Spanish cities, Gibraltar will face serious complications if the Gibraltar-Spain border closes following Brexit.
One of the key reasons the UK is leaving the EU is to restrict immigration into its countries. After the Brexit transition period ends, the UK will prohibit passport-free travel across UK borders, including those of overseas territories.
As a member of the EU, Gibraltar had open borders for all European citizens. Its economy is largely driven by tourism, with nearly 10 million tourists visiting each year. Though the majority of Gibraltarians work within Gibraltar, many Spaniards from nearby cities help sustain the Gibraltar tourist economy, with around 15,000 Spanish citizens coming into the territory for work every day. According to the BBC, Brexit threatens lengthy passport checks at every UK border, which would be costly to the local Gibraltar workforce. The border is only a mile long, so passport control would likely congest the area, slowing worker commutes. Additionally, closed borders would complicate the mass transportation of goods into and out of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has expressed interest in negotiating a travel-free deal with the EU. There are several microstates in Europe, such as Liechtenstein, that are in the Schengen zone without being in the EU.
According to the BBC, a spokesperson for Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo stated Mr. Picardo “could foresee a common travel area which would do a deal with Schengen.”
Since the UK’s acquisition of Gibraltar through the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, many Spaniards have wanted to regain sovereignty over it. However, according to Reuters, “In a 2002 referendum 99% of Gibraltarians rejected any idea of Britain sharing sovereignty with Spain.”
Additionally, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has not expressed interest in recovering control of Gibraltar, though the EU’s member states have granted Madrid a veto over the UK’s final decision.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 96% of Gibraltarians voted to stay in the EU. Though the UK Government currently stands against Gibraltar’s request of open borders, Arancha Gonzalez, the foreign minister of Spain, has expressed the need for Spain and the UK to come to a solution that benefits everyone. Both Gonzalez and Sanchez are interested in Gibraltar being an area that supports both sides of the border.
The Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31. 2020, by which point a decision will be reached. Whatever the solution, it will be a key negotiation in determining future relations between the EU and the UK.
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Gibraltar Complicates the UK’s Post-Brexit Border Plans