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Commission official says negotiation ‘deadlines aren’t useful’, hinting at treaty talks beyond Easter

A senior European Commission official hinted on Sunday that negotiations on a UK/EU treaty for the Rock’s post-Brexit relations with the EU could extend beyond Easter week.

During a visit to the Guardia Civil headquarters Algeciras, Margaritis Schinas, the Commission vice president responsible for promoting the European way of life and whose remit cover sensitive issues such as migration, said deadlines “are not useful” in complex negotiations.

Asked if a deal on Gibraltar would be reached by Easter, he said: “The negotiation is ongoing and we’ll continue working toward an agreement.”

He said the European Commission was “fully conscious” of the importance of this agreement to communities in this region, “and for Europe”.

Negotiators had initially set the end of March as their target date but later edged it to Easter to accommodate delays arising in part from travel disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The crisis in Ukraine has in recent weeks added further pressure on the negotiating calendar, with European foreign ministers and top EU officials focused primarily on the international response to Russia.

But all sides in the negotiations have consistently expressed optimism about the outcome, insisting the talks were constructive and share a common goal.

Irish newspaper Business Post reported on Sunday that a deal on Gibraltar “looks set to be announced shortly after Easter”, citing an unnamed senior EU source and drawing a contrast with talks on the Northern Ireland protocol, where progress is unlikely before May.

The official was echoing similar sentiment expressed in Gibraltar and Spain.

Last week, in a briefing to the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar in the House of Commons, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo expressed “strong optimism” that an agreement between the UK and the EU could be reached by Easter “or shortly thereafter”.

And late last month in the Spanish parliament, Spain’s state secretary for EU affairs, Pascual Ignacio Navarro Ríos, said Madrid expected “significant progress” at the next round of talks, which will take place in the coming days.

The negotiators hope to reach an agreement allowing a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone.

Spain, as neighbouring country, would take responsibility on behalf of the EU for Schengen immigration checks in Gibraltar, but Frontex officers would carry out the actual physical controls on the ground, at least for the first four years.

There is also the possibility of a bespoke arrangement on customs.

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