David Cameron wants post-Brexit Gibraltar deal with Spain ‘as soon as possible’

‘I would sign a deal with Britain over Gibraltar tomorrow’, says Spanish minister after talks with Lord Cameron

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 29 November 2023 10:34 GMT
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The UK and Spain are close to agreeing a deal on the post-Brexit status of Gibraltar, the Spanish foreign minister has indicated.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said Lord Cameron had underlined the UK’s desire to get “a UK-EU treaty on Gibraltar as soon as possible” during his discussion with counterpart Jose Manuel Albares.

Mr Albares first revealed he had been in crunch talks with Rishi Sunak’s new foreign secretary David Cameron on resolving the long-running row over trade and immigration arrangements.

He told Spanish media that he had spoken with Lord Cameron over the phone on Monday, and they had also agreed to meet in person during a Brussels summit on Tuesday.

The Spanish minister suggested the outline of a deal was now in place for a “zone of shared prosperity” in the Spanish area next to the British territory to avoid a hard border on the flow of people and goods.

“I would sign a deal with Britain over Gibraltar tomorrow,” Mr Albares told the television channel Telecinco – saying both sides “agree that we have to move forward as soon as possible”.

A UK-EU deal on arrangements for Gibraltar’s border – primarily on trade and free movement – was not struck in time for the Brexit deal worked out by Boris Johnson’s government.

Conservative ministers have been nervous about signing any bilateral deal that could be viewed as reducing British influence over the territory.

The Spanish foreign ministry has said the deal would allow Spain to use the Schengen agreement – which allows for the free movement of EU citizens around the bloc – to ease controls on the movement of people.

Spain, the UK and the EU have previously agreed to the principle that Gibraltar should remain part of EU agreements on free movement.

Spanish officials patrol border between Gibraltar and Spain

Mr Albares suggested the UK was also now keen on a frictionless border when it comes to the movement of goods – something akin to the thorny arrangements for Northern Ireland

His ministry said a “zone of shared prosperity” deal would see limited checks “without increasing the risks for the EU internal market” – meaning the UK would have to agree to alignment on Brussels regulations.

The Spanish foreign minister told reporters in Brussels: “I think this deal … is better for everyone than the application of European legislation after British citizens democratically decided to leave the European Union.”

“There’s already been political will on the part of the Spanish government for many months,” Mr Albares said on the “generous and balanced deal on the table”.

He added: “What’s needed now is that political will on the part of the United Kingdom to move forward decisively, which is what I’ve seen so far. But we won’t know until the end. Nothing will be agreed until it’s all agreed.”

Despite optimism that a deal is now close, there was no word from Lord Cameron’s team on the prospects of an agreement being signed within days.

Lord Cameron leaves cabinet on Tuesday ahead of trip to Brussels

Britain’s decision to leave the EU was very unpopular in the British overseas territory, where thousands of people cross the border with Spain every day for work. Just over 95 per cent of the territory’s population voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

The territory’s business leaders have been keen for a deal to be struck. Brian Reyes, editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote: “Seven years on [from the Brexit referendum], the Brexit levanter still hangs over our heads.”

Meanwhile, Lord Cameron is expected to try to meet EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic during his Brussels summit visit – his first trip to the EU capital since his fateful Brexit referendum.

The foreign secretary is reportedly ready to raise the issue of post-Brexit tariffs set to be imposed on the automobile industry into force in January if he meets Mr Sefcovic this week.

Mr Sunak’s government is pushing the EU Commission to agree to delay the costly new “rules of origin” set to damage the electric vehicle (EV) market due to come in at the start of 2024 as part of Mr Johnson’s trade deal.

The Independent has contacted Lord Cameron’s team and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for comment.

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