Gibraltar will join the EU’s borderless Schengen area now Britain has left Europe following Brexit, after the UK and Spain reached a temporary deal which is due to be turned into a treaty by the European Union in the coming months.
Britain left the European bloc officially on 31st January 2020, and began an 11 month transition period to negotiating the terms of a deal with the EU, although an agreement confirming freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar was not certain until the very end of the process.
However, it has now been confirmed that the territory will indeed form part of the Schengen agreement for passport free-travel between members allowing over 14,000 workers to continue to enter and exit the semi-exclave daily without a passport in the wake of the Brexit split.
This article looks at how visiting “the Rock” could be affected by the changes to Gibraltar now that the territory has become the newest member of the Schengen zone, and how the deal will work.
How Gibraltar became part of the Schengen Area
A Gibraltar Brexit deal was finalized on 31st December 2020, just hours before the UK was due to leave the European Union. In the closing discussions, the UK and Spain agreed to temporarily maintain freedom of movement between Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland while still retaining the status of British Overseas Territory.
The agreement allows Gibraltar to be included under the terms of the Schengen Agreement for passport-free travel, although it will not fully be a part of the Schengen information databases maintained by the European Commission.
Nevertheless, under the new deal, Gibraltar will still need to comply with the same rules of fair competition within the EU that other Schengen countries must meet, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya.
Some disputes over Gibraltar’s Schengen borders remain
The EU will now deploy Frontex border guards to facilitate freedom of movement between Spain and Gibraltar, for a temporary period of up to 4 years.
The deal means that Gibraltar’s airport and seaport now form part of the Schengen Area’s external borders, although it has not yet been confirmed if Spanish border guards will be posted at these entry points.
González Laya has suggested that this will be the case, stating “there must be a Spanish presence to carry out the minimum tasks of Schengen control” as “Schengen is a set of rules, procedures, and tools, including its database, to which only Spain has access. Gibraltar and the United Kingdom do not.”
However, the chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has disputed the idea that Spain will have the final decision on who enters the Schengen Area in the territory, saying that “under the New Year’s Eve Agreement only Gibraltar will decide who enters Gibraltar”.
Nevertheless, González Laya asserted that the Spanish government would work hard to ensure mobility at the shared land border would be “as fluid as possible” until the deal has been negotiated into a treaty between the UK and EU, which she estimated would take up to 6 months.
What the deal means for travel to Gibraltar from Spain
The Spanish and British governments have long had an agreement in place to allow Spanish citizens and British residents of Gibraltar to pass quickly through its borders. Previously., entering the territory required visitors holding British or EU passports or EU national identity cards to present their ID for inspection at the border crossing.
The new agreement will continue to allow Spanish citizens and nationals of Schengen countries access to Gibraltar without a passport and permit the population of Gibraltar freedom of movement to Spain and the Schengen Area using only their national ID card.
Fabian Picardo welcomed the news, hailing the deal as a “success” that will allow the territory to cultivate a closer relationship with Spain and the rest of the European Union.
Around 96% of Gibraltar’s population voted in favor of staying within the EU in the Brexit referendum. Although Gibraltarians are British citizens, they elect their own representatives to the House of Assembly in the territory.
The future of travel to Gibraltar from the UK after Brexit
Although all citizens of Schengen countries will now be able to enter Gibraltar using only their national ID card, British citizens will still be required to hold a valid passport and pass through passport checks in order to enter the exclave, as the UK is not and has never been a part of the Schengen Area.
Additionally, now that Gibraltar jas joined Schengen, UK citizens could need an ETIAS visa waiver in order to visit “the Rock” in the future.
This new Electronic Travel Authorization System is due to be launched by late 2022 and when it comes into effect it will be necessary for all visitors from visa waiver countries traveling to the Schengen Area to pre-register online and receive travel approval before they can enter any of its countries, which now includes Gibraltar.