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Schengen awaits

Thursday, 31st December 2020

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Today Gibraltar took a huge step towards freedom of movement for its citizens throughout the Schengen area of 26 countries.  The Chief Minister announed that a framework agreement had been reached with Spain and the UK.  This is his speech in full:

"This New Year’s Eve, we can look forward with expectation and hope.

We believe we may now be able to re-set our relationship with Spain and cast it in a more positive light going forward.

After many months of hard work, we have reached an in principle agreement with the United Kingdom and Spain.

The agreement is for a proposed framework for a UK / European Union Agreement or Treaty on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.

That agreement will govern the relationship between Gibraltar and the European Union in areas of EU competence.

The British Ambassador in the UK Mission to the European Union has written to the President of the European Commission confirming the UK’s desire that such an agreement be negotiated and that the EU should seek a mandate for that purpose.

Spain has confirmed that it has also now contacted the European Commission for that purpose.

As we have been seeking to do, the treaty to be negotiated will deal with maximised and unrestricted mobility of persons between Gibraltar and the Schengen area.

Spain, as the neighbouring Schengen member state, will be responsible as regards the European Union for the implementation of Schengen.

This will be managed by the introduction of a FRONTEX operation for the control of entry and exit points from the Schengen area at the Gibraltar entry points.

These arrangements will initially be provided for an initial period of four years.

It will also seek to address maximised and unrestricted mobility of goods between Gibraltar and the European Union.

We will also seek to reach agreement on matters related to the environment, the level playing field, social security coordination, citizens’ rights, data and matters related to continued document recognition and other ancillary matters.

These are the things that matter to people, to our citizens generally and to our workers in particular, to our businesses and to our entrepreneurs, our wealth creators.

This has not been easy and we have gone to the wire.

We are so close to the wire in fact, that I think all those of us involved in the negotiation felt the wire cutting into our flesh as we finalised arrangements in the early hours of this morning.

We had to do so in order to ensure that we did not fail to defend all matters that are of deep importance to us.

But now, almost at the last minute, the negotiation is successfully completed and the clock has stopped ticking.

We are going to avert the worst effects of a hard Brexit.

But of course, going to the wire means that we have many lose ends to settle with very little time to go.

So please bear with us as we now need to give effect to the provisions to enhance transitional measures whilst we finalise the negotiations of this Treaty.

There are no aspects of the framework that has been agreed that in any away transgress Gibraltar’s position on sovereignty, jurisdiction or control.

And that is not just my opinion, it is also the opinion of all members of the Gibraltar Cabinet, who I have briefed this morning.

I have also had this specifically confirmed in writing by the Attorney General of Gibraltar, Michael Llamas QC.

I want thank all my Government’s Ministers for their advice and support as we have negotiated these arrangements.

In particular, I must thank the Deputy Chief Minister, the Hon Dr Joseph Garcia MP for his work alongside me in the negotiating team for Gibraltar.

I also have to thank Sir Joe Bossano MP for his guidance in each of the Cabinet discussions on this subject.

The reality is that we could not have countenanced an ‘in-principle’ agreement of this type if sovereignty had been on the table. 

So I want to expressly thank the President of the Spanish Government, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, for the approach he and his Government have adopted to this negotiation.

From the moment that he first addressed the issue of Gibraltar, Prime Minister Sanchez has insisted that he wanted to look beyond the eternal issue of sovereignty.

I also want to, of course, expressly thank the Spanish Foreign Secretary, Arancha Gonzalez Laya for her work, her sensitivity and her own, very, very personal efforts in getting a mutually acceptable framework over the line, as well as the efforts of Spanish Secretary of State for Europe, Juan Gonzalez Barba.

The same is true of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, who I have been in contact with, in these past months and who has not forgotten Gibraltar in the Brexit negotiations.

We had hoped to finalise our discussions in time for the ratification vote yesterday and only missed that deadline due to the rigour that this moment required.

In particular, I must thank Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for his diligence and companionship in this negotiation – in particular, in the last 24 hours as he left no stone unturned in ensuring a safe conclusion for the negotiations.

Whether he has been in Barnet or in Bangalore, the Foreign Secretary has been available to talk, to discuss and to strategise in order to get the right result for Gibraltar and its people. 

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have understood the need for a differentiated solution for Gibraltar’s socio-economic and geographic reality.

They have given us the leeway to be able to reach this result just in the nick of time.

And all of this would not have been possible at all without the patience, hard work and commitment of our respective negotiating teams.

We have had many opportunities to argue, to debate and even to share a laugh or two as we have given each other space to reach these arrangements. 

A genuine thank you to Jose Pascual, Hugh, Maria Victoria, Simon, Pascual, Michael, Salvador, Albert, Nuño, Matt, Craig, Joanna and all the many others who have been with us through this first part of this journey.

I want in particular to fondly remember former head of the Gibraltar Office in Madrid Antonio Garcia Ferrer who passed away during the course of this negotiation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This has been a difficult process.

We have been battling the tide of history.

But with this agreement in principle we hope to start to see the future come into view.

We are at the beginning of the creation of an area of shared prosperity.

That is what this moment must represent.

That is what we want to see, greater economic growth.

We want to see greater cooperation.

And we want to see greater prosperity become a material reality for the whole of Gibraltar and the whole of the region around us.

The arrival at the end of the BREXIT storm of a rainbow of opportunities which touches the shores of every part of the beautiful bay around which we have made our lives and fought our politics.

As we enter the third decade of the third millennium, we could not allow a backwards step in the mobility of people to become the new normal.

As the world becomes more united, we could not see ourselves more cut off from the physical continent of Europe.

That was the call of the twenty-first century.

The call which we have all found irresistible.

The call we owed it to future generations to answer with bravery and determination as we have.

We therefore hope that this NEW YEAR’S EVE AGREEMENT will be the beginning of not just a happy new year, but of many happy decades, if not centuries, to come.

I will look forward to making a fuller statement in Parliament in coming days, Pandemic permitting."

Footnote: The Schengen countries are as follows: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland

 

Contributed by Mike Nicholls