Gibraltar considers joining EU’s Schengen open borders area to ease damage from Brexit

Chief minister Fabian Picardo says it does not ‘make sense’ for the territory to be cut off

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Gibraltar is considering joining the EU’s Schengen open borders area to limit disruption caused by Brexit, its chief minister has said.

Fabian Picardo, the territory’s leader, said it did not “make sense” for Gibraltar to be cut off from the rest of Europe given its location bordering Spain.

A decision to join the full Schengen area by the micro-state could mean UK travellers would have to apply for a mini-visa known as ETIAS to visit after Brexit.

The EU plans to bring in the so-called European Travel Information and Authorisation System from 2021, which would require non-EU visitors to Schengen countries to fill in forms and pay a small fee to visit.

The system is expected to be similar to the US ESTA system that many British travellers are already familiar with.

“We talked about this issue before Brexit … about Gibraltar becoming part of the Schengen zone,” Mr Picardo told the AFP news agency, adding that it would be a “positive step”.

He added: “Does it make sense for the EU that 2.5 square miles (6.2sq km) at the southernmost tip of Iberia should not be accessible to EU citizens? I don’t think it does.

“If you look at other micro-states in Europe, they take the benefit of common travel areas with Schengen, even if they’re not entirely part of the Schengen information system.

“There is the ability to move fluidly between the territories of the EU and these micro-states. All of these things will be considered in the context of the negotiations going forward.”

Gibraltar voted to remain by a huge margin – 96 per cent – but is being taken out of the EU with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr Picardo presides over a region that delivered the highest ‘Remain’ vote – 96 per cent – of anywhere in the EU referendum

The Schengen area currently covers 26 European states, which have officially abolished all border controls between themselves. The UK has never been a member of Schengen and has always retained passport controls with EU countries.

Most EU states are members, as are Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus want to join the area but are currently in the process of preparing their borders to meet its conditions.

Passport controls are separate to the principle of free movement enshrined in EU membership: a person whose passport gives them free movement will still have their passport checked when crossing a border, but under Schengen this does not happen.

The UK has its own international passport-free area with the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, known as the Common Travel Area.

Border controls currently operate between Gibraltar and Spain, and the territory’s integrated economy means thousands of people a day go through them to work.

UK visitors currently need a passport to visit Gibraltar, which is a British Overseas Territory.

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