By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — The UK government on Tuesday (20 July) accused the European Union of “seeking to undermine the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar,” warning that the bloc’s plans “cannot form a basis for negotiations.”
The comments came on the day the EU executive published its negotiating mandate, which requires the agreement of the bloc’s 27 member states before talks with the UK can begin.
A British territory which is part of mainland Spain, and whose status has long been contested by Madrid, Gibraltar is not included in the scope of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and UK which came into force in January.
Under an agreement finalised between the UK and Spain on 31 December, the day before the UK left the EU’s single market, Gibraltar became part of the Schengen zone to ensure fluidity on its border with Spain.
“The UK, with Gibraltar, and Spain carefully agreed a pragmatic Framework Agreement, in full consultation with the EU Commission,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“The Commission’s proposed mandate, published today, directly conflicts with that framework. It seeks to undermine the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, and cannot form a basis for negotiations,” he added.
“We have consistently showed pragmatism and flexibility in the search for arrangements that work for all sides, and we are disappointed that this has not been reciprocated. We urge the EU to think again,” said Raab.
It is understood that the main point of disagreement is over the role of Spanish border officials. The UK-Spain agreement had envisaged that officials from Frontex, the EU’s border agency, would manage the border.
The European Commission said in a statement that the proposals “put forward solutions to remove physical checks and controls on persons and goods” at the border between Spain and Gibraltar.
“It is without prejudice to the issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction, and focuses on cooperation in the region,” the bloc added.
The Commission mandate covers a range of border management issues including asylum, visas, residence permits and police cooperation and information exchange.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who is responsible for negotiating and implementing post-Brexit relations said its proposals were about “honouring the political commitment we made to Spain to start the negotiations of a separate agreement between the EU and the UK on Gibraltar.”
“This is a detailed mandate, which aims to have a positive impact for those living and working on either side of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, while protecting the integrity of the Schengen Area and the single market,” Sefcovic added.