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Spain and Britain do a deal over Gibraltar

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Jan 7th 2021MADRIDGIBRALTAR IS “a perfect synthesis of Britishness and the Mediterranean way of life”, boasts Fabian Picardo, its chief minister. It has red telephone boxes and a Marks & Spencer, but its 34,000 people often lapse into Llanito, a kind of Spanglish, and their daily lives are intertwined with Spain’s. No wonder that 96% of them voted in the referendum in 2016 for Britain to stay in the EU. On December 31st Gibraltar got some consolation for Brexit in the form of an agreement that softens what is now a hard border. It was a victory for common sense.Gibraltar’s economy turns on services: finance, online gambling and tourism. It exports few goods. But it depends on some 10,000 workers who cross each day from Spain, and relies on its Spanish hinterland for space for homes and

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GIBRALTAR IS “a perfect synthesis of Britishness and the Mediterranean way of life”, boasts Fabian Picardo, its chief minister. It has red telephone boxes and a Marks & Spencer, but its 34,000 people often lapse into Llanito, a kind of Spanglish, and their daily lives are intertwined with Spain’s. No wonder that 96% of them voted in the referendum in 2016 for Britain to stay in the EU. On December 31st Gibraltar got some consolation for Brexit in the form of an agreement that softens what is now a hard border. It was a victory for common sense.

Gibraltar’s economy turns on services: finance, online gambling and tourism. It exports few goods. But it depends on some 10,000 workers who cross each day from Spain, and relies on its Spanish hinterland for space for homes and business expansion. The agreement aspires to freedom of travel between the Rock and Spain. A corollary is that Gibraltar’s airport and port will be the external border of the EU and will fall within the Schengen passport-free area. Arriving passengers, including Britons, will have their passports checked first by Gibraltar’s police and then by Frontex, the EU’s border agency, working in conjunction with Spanish police.

Spain and Britain do a deal over Gibraltar

Many details are still to be hammered out before this outline agreement becomes—later this year, diplomats hope—a treaty between the EU and Britain. It involves delicate fudges. Spain has long claimed sovereignty over Gibraltar, though it yielded it in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. In a referendum in 2002 Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain British. Some Spanish right-wingers saw Brexit as a chance to push for sovereignty. But the biggest losers from confrontation would be the Spanish towns in the Rock’s hinterland, some of the poorest in Spain. In La Línea, for example, unemployment is already 27% and drug-traffickers are powerful.

Until the treaty is signed, the hard border will be lightly enforced. With Gibraltar and La Línea both locked down because of covid-19, there is little traffic at the moment. “This deal will have many enemies,” warns a diplomat. But if it sticks, both sides have much to gain. Mr Picardo talks of a “bay of prosperity” where investors see enough certainty to take advantage of the Gibraltar region’s strategic position close to north Africa.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline "Between a rock and a softer place"

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