As Britain's departure from the EU approaches, several issues still need to be addressed. While some wonder about what will be decided in regards to the Irish border, another more pressing question remains: What will happen with Gibraltar after the UK splits from the EU? What impact will Gibraltar have on the reciprocal visa agreement between the EU and the UK?
Though it seemed that progress had been made in regards to visa requirements for Britons who wish to visit EU countries, doubts have arisen after Spain formally complained to the EU Commission. Spain is concerned about what will happen to Spanish workers that cross the border to Gibraltar each day. It has been reported that "every day, roughly 10,000 Spanish workers travel to Gibraltar to work".
The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has now weighed in on the debate, suggesting that, after the Brexit split, Gibraltar could become part of the Schengen Area which allows passport-free travel between nations. This would allow the tiny territory to maintain a ‘fluid’ border with Spain and other EU states.
However, such a move is far from guaranteed, as the British government has suggested that any negotiations for Gibraltar to join the Schengen zone would need to include ‘ the whole family of the United Kingdom’.
If Gibraltar does join Schengen, it may be necessary to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver to travel to the territory once this electronic system is implemented by the end of 2022.
The Electronic Travel and Information Authorization System will be launched to protect and strengthen the Schengen Zone external borders. Citizens from visa-exempt countries will need to obtain an ETIAS visa waiver in order to visit the Schengen Area. It is possible that after Britain leaves the EU, UK citizens will need to get their ETIAS to travel to the 26 Schengen member countries.
Spain’s position over Gibraltar
Spain at this time is a major obstacle for Britain reaching a deal with the EU. Gibraltar, a UK territory, is due to leave the EU along with Britain. However, Spain insists that this territory should be excluded from all agreements between the EU and Britain.
Spain proposed that Gibraltar be assigned as a “colony of the British crown”, which was met with harsh criticism. The EU has rejected the Spanish government’s proposal and have suggested a counter-proposal which would simply include a note in the legislation that describes that there is controversy over Gibraltar between Spain and the UK. Nonetheless, this proposal has failed to satisfy all parties involved. The UK has urged Spain to accept Gibraltar’s “hand of friendship” and “unclench its fist”.
Gibraltar is a perfect example of how interdependent Britain is with certain EU countries. It should be noted that Gibraltar opted out of the EU customs union in 1972 and has set lower taxes that its European neighbor. An international tax treaty was signed on Monday March 4th by Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell and by the UK’s Cabinet Office minister David Lidington which now must be confirmed by both countries.
Spain and the UK signed their first bilateral treaty over Gibraltar in more than 300 years. Under this agreement, companies and people in Gibraltar must pay taxes in Spain if they are doing their business there.
Could Gibraltar Join the Schengen Area after the UK leaves the EU?
Gibraltar Chief Minister Picardo recently suggested that a solution to the dispute with Spain could be for the territory to independently strike a deal to join the Schengen Area in some way and maintain fluid borders with the EU.
He made reference to Liechtenstein as an example of a European microstate that enjoys the benefits of visa-free travel within the Schengen Area despite not being a full part of the Schengen Information System maintained by the European Commission.
However, the UK government has responded with doubt to Picardo’s suggestion, stressing that any deal that involved Gibraltar would have to apply to the United Kingdom as well.
A UK governement spokesperson appeared to dismiss the idea of Shengen membership in favor of seeking ‘border agreements with Spain that promote fluidity and shared prosperity in the area.’
Picardo later responded to the statement by saying Gibraltar’s position on the matter is ‘totally consistent’ with the position of the British government, so it is still unclear whether Gibraltar joining the Schengen Area could be a viable option or not.
Will British Travelers Need a Schengen Visa or an ETIAS?
Spain’s claims over Gibraltar and the border with Northern Ireland have both caused difficulties for the UK as it negotiates a deal with the EU. Gibraltar has custom controls that are already in place at the border with Spain. However, there are still concerns in regards to the thousands of workers that cross the border daily to work in Gibraltar. This issue is still to be solved or agreed upon.
Whether Britons will need a Schengen visa or an ETIAS visa waiver is yet to be fully determined. However, regardless of the negotiations between the UK and the EU it is more than likely that British travelers will continue to enjoy visa-free travel within the Schengen Area.
While there are different possibilities, the most probable outcome is that Britons will need to obtain the ETIAS visa waiver to visit one or more of the 26 member countries of the Schengen Zone. ETIAS has been designed to improve security and citizens from countries that enjoy visa-free agreements will need to apply online for their ETIAS travel authorization.
ETIAS is not a visa, it is a travel authorization that can be obtained after completing an online application. Applying for ETIAS will be a straightforward process and eligible travelers will simply need a valid passport, debit or credit card and an email address.