Spain: Accord needed to avert hard border with Gibraltar

Madrid, Dec 28 (efe-epa).- Spain will begin customs and immigration checks on the Gibraltar border at the start of 2021 absent an accord with the United Kingdom on the territory’s post-Brexit links with the European Union, the foreign minister said Monday, though she added that people who cross the boundary daily for work will not be affected.

Aside from those roughly 15,000 registered regular commuters, all other people and cargo entering Spain from the British Crown Colony will be subject to the same regulations that apply on every EU border with a third country, Arantxa Gonzalez Laya said.

The Dec. 24 pact governing UK-EU relations following Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc “does not apply to Gibraltar,” which requires a “separate accord” between Madrid and London, she told a press conference in Madrid.

“If there is an agreement in principle, we could modulate mobility on the Gibraltar border. And if there is no agreement in principle, it is an EU external border with a third country and modulation is impossible,” Spain’s top diplomat said.

Failing an agreement by Dec. 31, Spain will have to administer the border with “scrupulous observance” of all EU norms, Gonzalez Laya said.

Beyond the effects at the border, Gibraltar’s being designated as a third country would mean that residents of the Rock lose access to the Spanish social security system and Gibraltarians would need to update their licenses and insurance arrangements to drive in Spain, she said.

“We are not inventing anything new, it is what happens with a third country,” the foreign minister said.

On a typical day, more than 200 trucks cross the border loaded with merchandise and the need to impose third county norms would mean “more checks, waiting time, lines and costs,” she said.

Spain is ready to continue negotiating right up until the final minute of 2020 in pursuit of an agreement to “simplify the mobility procedures to the maximum,” she said.

The technical details have been worked out and all that is lacking is “political will,” according to Gonzalez Laya.

The process is unfolding against the long-standing dispute between London and Madrid over sovereignty in the territory of 5.5 sq km (2.1 sq mi) at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea that has been held by Britain since 1704 and became a British Crown Colony in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Madrid rejects the legitimacy of British control of the Rock and insists that Gibraltar is rightfully part of Spain.

But the foreign minister said Monday that the sovereignty dispute should not be an obstacle to reaching an agreement on the border.

“Without renouncing our positions relative to sovereignty, we can agree to disagree about sovereignty,” Gonzalez Laya said.

Ties with Gibraltar account for around 25 percent of economic activity in the Spanish municipalities neighboring Gibraltar. EFE nac-ajs/dr

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