Gibraltar’s border with Spain will remain open after the UK and European Union struck a last-minute deal just before the end of the Brexit transition.
The 11th hour breakthrough means the Rock, home to 34,000 people, will join the EU’s Schengen area, allowing free movement and avoiding a hard border.
About 15,000 Spanish workers go to Gibraltar, whose British sovereignty is disputed by Madrid, every day.
Its status was not covered in the trade agreement reached by the UK and EU on Christmas Eve, prompting concerns about what would happen when the transition period ended at 11pm on Thursday.
Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya announced the “agreement in principle” means people in Gibraltar “can breathe a sigh of relief”.
Further details will be published in the New Year, she added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I wholeheartedly welcome today’s political agreement between the UK and Spain on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.
“The UK has always been, and will remain, totally committed to the protection of the interests of Gibraltar and its British sovereignty.”
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez tweeted: “We have begun a new stage.
“We have reached a principle of agreement with the United Kingdom on Gibraltar that will allow us to remove barriers and move towards an area of shared prosperity.
Brexit trade deal talks were held up for months over two main issues.
Fishing: The two sides were split over two issues – quotas and access. In 2012-16, 56% of the fish in UK waters was caught by EU boats and 44% by UK boats. Britain wanted both more quota to catch its own fish, and ultimate control over who accesses the waters. Both sides agreed a five-and-a-half-year transition period before the UK has full sovereignty over its own waters. This was more than the three years originally demanded by the UK. Meanwhile the UK share of fish caught in its own waters will rise to reclaim 25% of fish currently caught by EU trawlers by 2026. Originally the UK had demanded 80% of the EU’s quotas in UK waters.
Level playing field: This means how closely we follow EU rules in the future, to stop us undercutting businesses on the continent. The UK wanted to be free to set its own laws in areas like labour, environment, climate, and subsidies for businesses (“state aid”). But the EU originally demanded “equivalence”, with the UK “mirroring” EU rules in future. In the end, the EU won its demand for both sides to have a “level playing field” in which neither side will “grant unfair subsidies or distort competition”. But the deal stops short of the EU’s original demands for the UK to mirror EU laws. Instead the PM said each side will be able “as sovereign equals” to take action if the other side undercuts their industry – but this should only be done infrequently. The PM admitted the EU would be able to slap tariffs on UK exports and vice versa if the UK is seen to undercut EU rules. But he insisted it would have to be “proportionate” and “subject to arbitration”.
“Firmness in principles, progress for citizenship.
“Thank you to the foreign negotiators.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “All sides are committed to mitigating the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar, and in particular ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the people living on both sides.
“We remain steadfast in our support for Gibraltar and its sovereignty.”
Gibraltar was given to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and is a key strategic port, with the Strait of Gibraltar providing the western entrance to the Mediterranean.