LONDON — An agreement on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU will not be reached by the end of this year, with talks expected to continue into early 2022.
The British and Spanish Foreign Ministers, Liz Truss and José Manuel Albares, met on Wednesday evening in Madrid to take stock of the progress of negotiations on Gibraltar, a British overseas territory but a land border with Spain.
In statements after the meeting, the two governments said more time was needed, but they hoped for an agreement in the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, they agreed to extend the transitional arrangements preventing a hard border with Spain – which will expire on December 31 – for as long as talks continue.
The talks aim to produce an EU-UK treaty based on an agreement reached between Spain and the UK at the end of 2020. This agreement, which is not legally binding, allowed Gibraltar to be part of of the area without a Schengen passport, with the sponsorship of Madrid. It paved the way for the demolition of the controversial 1.2 kilometer physical barrier separating the two territories, moving border controls to Gibraltar port and airport.
Madrid and London had hoped that negotiations between the Commission and the UK could start last summer and be concluded by the end of the year. But the talks started later than expected as the leaders of the 27 member countries of the EU did not give their approval to the Commission’s draft mandate until October. Since then, negotiators have held four rounds of talks.
Spain’s foreign ministry said Albares and Truss agreed the talks were “very productive” but had been slowed by the “complexity of the issues at stake” – including the free movement of people, patrols at the border, trade in goods, state aid, environmental rules and the coordination of the Spanish and Gibraltarian social security systems. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office described the talks as “constructive”, adding that “the UK has maintained its position on Gibraltar’s sovereignty”.
Truss’ trip to Madrid was his first bilateral visit to an EU country in his first 100 days in office. The discussion with Albares also touched on undocumented migration, preparations for the NATO summit in Madrid in June and bilateral collaboration on energy and technology.