With Brexit an imminent reality, Gibraltar has indicated its desire to join the EU’s borderless Schengen area to ease travel concerns after Britain has left Europe.
Britain left the European bloc officially on 31st January, 2020 and began an 11 month transition period in which it is negotiating the terms of a deal with the EU. At present, guaranteed freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar will end on the transition period deadline of December 31, 2020.
Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of the British territory, indicated that seamless travel between Spain and Gibraltar should be allowed to continue. Currently, 14,000 workers enter and exit the semi-exclave daily and it is hoped they will be able to continue to do so after Brexit comes into full effect.
This article looks at how visiting “the Rock” could be affected by the changes Brexit may bring. It also examines the likelihood of Gibraltar becoming the newest member of the Schengen zone and how this could possibly happen.
How to visit Gibraltar currently
The Spanish and British governments currently have an agreement in place to allow Spanish citizens and British residents of Gibraltar to pass quickly through its borders. At the moment, entering the territory requires visitors holding British or EU passports or EU national identity cards to present their ID for inspection at the border crossing.
Most foreign nationals from EU and UK visa waiver countries can also enter with just their passport. However, those needing a visa to enter the EU or UK must also have a valid visa to enter Gibraltar. Visitors with UK visas must also have a separate visa that allows travel to the overseas territory.
How to travel to Gibraltar from Spain post-Brexit
How travel between British territory and the EU will function post-Brexit is still subject to negotiation between both parties. Travel to and from Gibraltar will remain unchanged until the end of the transition period, which expires at the end of 2020.
Negotiations between the EU and UK will begin in February 2020 and the subject of citizen rights to travel is one of the biggest issues to be discussed. The UK government has thus far indicated its preference to end freedom of movement and introduce visa waivers for EU citizens visiting Britain.
It has also declared its intention to introduce a “points-based” immigration policy for foreign workers from the EU. Both of these decisions could have big consequences in negotiations regarding the flow of people travelling between Gibraltar and Spain.
If no deal is agreed it could lead to stricter border checks to enter Spain or even the necessity of visas or visa waiver travel authorisation for residents of Gibraltar. This is likely to cause major disruption at Gibraltararian ports of entry.
One option Gibraltar is considering quite carefully to counteract this outcome is to join the Schengen area to safeguard the freedom of movement for its residents and Spanish workers employed in the territory. It is not certain yet whether this is feasible for either the EU or the UK.
If Gibraltar does join Schengen, UK citizens could need an ETIAS visa waiver in order to visit “the Rock”. This new system is due to be launched next year and when it comes into effect it will be necessary for all visitors from visa waiver countries entering the Schengen area.
Would the EU and the UK let Gibraltar join Schengen?
The UK has declined Gibraltar’s current request to become a Schengen country. It is also not yet clear if the EU would allow a non-EU foreign overseas territory such as this to join its common travel area.
A clear majority, around 96%, of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU during the Brexit referendum. However, the deal that is struck between the UK and the EU will affect all British territory, including “the Rock”.
In a statement regarding Picardo’s request, a spokesman for the UK government indicated that “the UK and Gibraltar Governments have always supported arrangements at the border with Spain, which promote fluidity and shared prosperity in the region.”
It, therefore, seems more likely that the solution to the Gibraltarian border will depend more on the UK’s negotiations with the EU than possible Schengen membership.
How Gibraltar could become a Schengen member
At present, it seems unlikely that Gibraltar will be able to join Schengen as the UK government continues to resist such a move. However, it still remains a possibility. This is one way it could happen:
- Gibraltar would have to seek an independence referendum
- If passed the country would have to transition to either full independence or seek to become a part of Spain
- If independently outside the UK’s jurisdiction, Gibraltar would have to apply to join the EU
- Once approved as an EU member it would then be entitled to join Schengen
- If it passes all the necessary criteria, Gibraltar would then be integrated into the passport-free zone
However, this is a very long process that could take years if not decades. Countries such as Romania and Bulgaria have been EU members for over 13 years and have still not been approved to become Schengen members. It is also not 100% clear which route the territory would take to achieving this.
Despite these roadblocks, Gibraltar’s small population, strong economy, and developed road and air infrastructure could give it some advantages in negotiating with the EU. However, this is still highly speculative.
It seems for the time being Gibraltar will remain outside the EU’s borderless zone. However, it still remains to be seen what solution the UK and the EU will agree once Brexit has come into effect.