UPDATED: January 11th, 2021
Just hours before the end of the Brexit transition period, Spain finally reached a deal with the UK regarding the free movement to and from Gibraltar. The answer surrounding what will happen to Gibraltar after Brexit? has finally been resolved.
Although the EU and the United Kingdom finally reached a trade deal for the post-Brexit period, the issues surrounding Gibraltar remained unresolved until the very last moment.
A post-Brexit relationship between Gibraltar and Spain has been a contentious and complex issue ever since the Brexit result. Gibraltar, also known as ‘The Rock’, became British territory in 1713, yet its physical location to the south of the Iberian peninsula means that it has strong ties with Spain.
Given that Brexit will affect UK passport holders travelling to Europe, the way citizens of Gibraltar interact with Spanish territory is about to change.
This article addresses the following questions and examines the proposed solutions:
- How can I travel from Spain to Gibraltar after Brexit?
- What will happen at the Gibraltar-Spain border?
- Will Gibraltarians need a Schengen visa for Spain after Brexit?
Crossing the Gibraltar-Spain Border
Approximately 10,000 Spanish citizens go to Gibraltar each day to work. Until now, Spanish workers have been able to cross the border carrying just their ID card, however, but it was not certain if this would still be the case after the Brexit transition period.
However, this issue has now been resolved, as Spain and the UK have signed a temporary agreement to maintain freedom of movement to and from Gibraltar while maintaining the status of the colony as a British Overseas Territory.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya confirmed the news, stating that “with this [agreement], the fence is removed, Schengen is applied to Gibraltar... it allows for the lifting of controls between Gibraltar and Spain.”
The economic importance of the Gibraltar-Spain border
The ability to cross the Gibraltar-Spain border quickly and efficiently is essential to the economies of both Spain and Gibraltar.
Spanish citizens make up a significant proportion of the workforce in Gibraltar, up to 40%, carrying out roles that may otherwise be left unfilled. Meanwhile, thousands of Spaniards living in the Campo de Gibraltar area of Cadiz rely on the income provided by such jobs.
In addition, Gibraltar has become an established tourist destination in recent years. Around 10 million people visit Gibraltar each year, many arriving by land from Spain.
This mutual dependency highlighted the importance of ensuring entering Spain from Gibraltar, and vice versa, remains as efficient as possible after Brexit.
Has Gibraltar joined the Schengen Area?
The new UK/Spain deal for Gibraltar means that the British colony will indeed join the Schengen Area for passport-free travel, and will now be included in the Schengen Agreement between the other 26 member countries.
The 271,000 inhabitants of the 8 municipalities of Gibraltar will now be permitted freedom of movement to Spain and the other Schengen countries, and all Schengen nationals will be able to travel to Gibraltar without undergoing passport checks.
However, as the UK is not and has never been a part of the Schengen Area, British citizens will still be required to go through passport controls to gain entry to Gibraltar.
The agreement will be valid for a transition period of 4 years during which the EU will deploy Frontex border guards to Gibraltar’s land border to facilitate the free movement treaty.
González Laya has also confirmed that the new deal between the UK and Spain will also mean that Gibraltar will need to comply with EU fair competition rules shared by the other members of the Schengen Agreement, in areas such as financial policy, the environment and the labour market.
The new Gibraltar UK-Spain deal puts the territory on the same level as Liechtenstein, which 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.
It also means that Gibraltar’s air and sea port will now be a de facto part of the external borders of the Schengen Area, although González Laya did not specify whether Spanish border guards would eventually be posted at Gibraltar's airport and/or seaport.
Does the UK support Gibraltar becoming a Schengen member?
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter that he received the new agreement regarding a post-Brexit Gibraltar “with enthusiasm”, while Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary, classified the deal as a "political framework" which will lead to a separate treaty with the EU after a 6-month transition period.
Although the deal does not address the controversial issue of Britain's sovereignty over Gibraltar, Raab stated: "We remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar, and its sovereignty is safeguarded."
He added that "all sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the [Brexit] Transition Period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.”
Who will have control over Gibraltar’s Schengen borders after Brexit?
Some disagreements remain over who will have control over deciding who can enter the Schengen Area from Spain following the Gibraltar Brexit deal.
González Laya has stressed that “the final decision on who enters the Schengen Area belongs to Spain” because neither Gibraltar nor the UK has access to Schengen rules, procedures and tools, including the Schengen Information System database.
She added that “there must be a Spanish presence to carry out the minimum tasks of Schengen control,” although she said a decision to deploy Spanish police and customs officers to Gibraltar would not be made until after the deal had been presented to Spain’s parliament.
However, Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, strongly disputed González Laya’s claims in an online response, tweeting that “only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar and Spanish officers will not exercise any controls in Gibraltar at the airport or port now or in four years’ time. This is our land. Couldn’t be clearer.”
Despite this disagreement, González Laya has stressed that the Spanish government will make their best effort to ensure mobility at Gibraltar’s land border “would be as fluid as possible” until the European Commission is able to negotiate the deal into a post-Brexit treaty with the UK and EU, which she said should take no more than 6 weeks.
Deal on Schengen visa issuance to enter Gibraltar
The framework agreement reached by the UK and Spain includes demolishing Gibraltar’s current physical barrier, known as La Verja, between La Línea (Cádiz, Spain) and the British Overseas Territory.
The UK-Spain deal also states the way Schengen visas will be issued from now on to enter Gibraltar: Spanish embassies and consulates are allowed to issue short-term Schengen visas (up to 90 days) to travellers who want to visit the territory. The same will happen by the end of 2022 once the ETIAS visa waiver is launched: Spain will be in charge of handling the European travel permit for people seeking to enter Gibraltar.
In the case of long-term Schengen visas (more than 90 days), they will also be issued by Spanish authorities. However, British embassies can be used to deliver them to foreign applicants.
In any of these cases, Spain “must align itself with the EU’s visa policy”, which means that -for instance- the country is obliged to inform Gibraltar about the visas it has issued on a regular basis.
Other reactions to the Gibraltar Brexit deal with Spain
Despite his reservations over González Laya’s comments about border control, Fabian Picardo has called the deal a “success” that “will restart our relationship with Spain” and that the agreement will open up new opportunities for “decades if not centuries”.
Similarly, Juan Lozano, the president of the Commonwealth of Municipalities of Campo de Gibraltar, called the agreement a historic deal “which we will remember just like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989”, while Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, tweeted that it “will allow us to eliminate barriers and move towards an era of prosperity”.
González Laya also pointed out that the deal will allow Gibraltar to establish closer ties with the EU, something that 96% of voters in the territory wanted from the Brexit referendum.
Post-Brexit requirements for entering Spain from Gibraltar
Now that Gibraltar will become part of the Schengen Area, the way Gibraltarians travel to Spain will not change following the end of the Brexit transition period.
As passport-free travel is permitted between all Schengen countries, Gibraltarians will still be able to travel to Spain using just an ID card, and will not need to show their passport at border checks.
ETIAS may be required to enter Spain from Gibraltar
UK citizens will soon need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) before accessing the Schengen Area.
The EU’s new visa waiver system will be launched towards the end of 2022 and become a mandatory entry requirement for third-country nationals heading to any of the 26 ETIAS countries.
As Gibraltar will become a de facto part of the Schengen Area, it is likely that, with the exception of Gibraltians, UK citizens will need an ETIAS to travel to Gibraltar by the end of 2022.
The permit is applied for online and valid for multiple trips of up to 90 days. An ETIAS visa waiver is valid for 3 years, or until the passport expires, so it will not be necessary to reapply before each trip.