The EU has expressed its intention to take effective control of Britain’s overseas territory, Gibraltar as tensions rise between London and Brussels over the hated Northern Ireland protocol, which the UK government is determined to reform.
Spain has traditionally baulked at British sovereignty over the slither of land protruding from its southwest corner, most recently during the Brexit negotiations – Spanish governments also have a habit of kicking up a stink over Gibraltar whenever polling numbers are sinking. But this time it’s the EU cynically exploiting the UK’s small, but far from insignificant footprint on the Continent.
Eurocrats have torn up an amicable deal struck with the Spanish to have border agency Frontex manage Gibraltar’s frontier with Spain, which handles a large volume of traffic due to the Rock’s membership of the Schengen passport-free zone.
The EU has taken a hammer to the peace with Spain, insisting on putting “Spanish boots on the ground” and taking control of Gibraltar’s thriving economy.
A draft negotiating mandate published this week by the EU states Spain must have control over short and long-term visa applications, and EU law would apply to Gibraltar both in terms of product standards – the dreaded “level playing field” – and accompanying checks to go with authority over passports and visas.
“The envisaged agreement should provide that Spanish border guards have all necessary powers and obligations to carry out the border controls and surveillance, including with respect to refusal of entry, receipt of requests for international protection, arrest of a person and seizure of property in line with the applicable union legislation,” the document stipulates.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab struck back: “The UK, with Gibraltar, and Spain carefully agreed a pragmatic Framework Agreement, in full consultation with the EU Commission. The Commission’s proposed mandate, published today, directly conflicts with that framework. It seeks to undermine the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, and cannot form a basis for negotiations.”
A foreign office source who spoke to the Telegraph said: “This means Spanish boots on the ground. If the UK, Spain and Gibraltar agree on this, why the hell is the EU trying to undermine us and create this mess. We have consistently warned them that this would not be acceptable to us.”
The appearance of uniformed Spanish officers in Gibraltar would be a psychological shock for a community whose identity is strongly linked to courageous defiance against Britain’s enemies over centuries. Having voted 96% Remain, the territory’s political leaders backed the UK government every step of the way during the tortuous Brexit negotiations.
The EU will sign off on the eventual agreement, but the Spanish and the Brits are supposed to take the lead, and have up until now. Making the document so heavy-handed has been interpreted as a move to put pressure on Britain to give in and accept the Northern Ireland Protocol. A government source told the Times Eurocrats are trying to open up “another sore” before talks over the border mechanism stymying British trade across the Irish Sea heat up further.
On Wednesday, Britain’s EU negotiator, Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost said the government would consider triggering Article 16 to suspend at least part of the protocol to restore the flow of trade with mainland Britain in a 28-page command paper.
“We cannot go on as we are,” said Frost after outlining the burdens being placed on Northern Ireland businesses by the EU’s Brutal approach to enforcement, which stems from the province de facto remaining in the European single market for goods.
Unsurprisingly, the EU said the protocol is non-negotiable. However, British officials, including Lord Frost, argue the bloc is overapplying the terms. Trade within Britain involving Northern Ireland now accounts for more checks than the mega port of Rotterdam.