Fourth round of negotiations for Gib treaty starts in London on Tuesday
The fourth round of UK-EU negotiations for a treaty on the Rock’s future relationship with the bloc starts on Tuesday in London, as expectation mounts as to whether negotiators will be able to seal an agreement by the end of the year.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia left for London on Monday morning in order to attend coordinating meetings with the UK negotiators and other events parallel to the main session.
As in earlier rounds, the Attorney General, Michale Llamas, will again participate in the negotiations alongside the UK Government team and supported by Daniel Damato, the Director of Gibraltar House in Brussels.
The Gibraltar Government said it remains committed to a constructive negotiation based on the New Year’s Eve political framework.
That framework, No.6 Convent Place said on Monday, “…envisaged a mobility agreement which would provide for the fluid passage of persons and goods across the border.”
The agreement seeks to establish 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.
The negotiations to date have been conducted out of the public eye, with few details released as to the nature and content of the discussions or the main areas of disagreement.
Last month, UK minister Wendy Morton told a House of Commons committee that the UK Government remained committed to a treaty but had concerns about a number of areas including the EU’s “disproportionate” opening position on customs, as well as its stance in areas including visas, asylum and residency.
But there is no indication as to how far those positions might have shifted since the negotiations commenced in October.
Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, has remained upbeat throughout and has stated repeatedly that the EU aspires to an agreement before the end of the year.
And late last month, Mr Picardo told a House of Commons committee that he believed an agreement was possible by year-end, although the final text of the treaty may take longer.
"I don't think it is likely that we will have the text of a treaty by the end of the year," the Chief Minister said at the time.
"That's not to say that there isn't the possibility that we will have moved to a high level of agreement between, now, the United Kingdom of the one part, and the European Union and Spain of the other part."
"And if we reach that agreement and we're then at the stage of writing that down at an international, legal level, then I think that we will have done as much as we can for the people of Gibraltar and the region in time to avoid reaching the end of this year without even having an agreement."
In parallel to the London talks, Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary, is scheduled to be in Madrid on Wednesday for talks with her Spanish counterpart about UK-Spain relations.
The two foreign ministers discussed Gibraltar and UK-Spain mobility last month on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Riga.
Mr Albares later told reporters he had told Ms Truss it was “good” to work toward an agreement on Gibraltar by December 31.
“I stressed that it is very important to reach that agreement as soon as possible and I told her that we have to have timescales,” he told the Efe news agency at the time.
“It’s good to work toward the 31st of December, even though this date is not an obligatory deadline.”
The Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister are expected to return to Gibraltar on Thursday.
In their absence Dr John Cortes, the Minister for Education and the Environment, will act as Chief Minister.