Plans unveiled for border revamp as Gibraltar and Spain seek solutions to disruption
Border flow returned to relative normality on Tuesday after changes on either side led to major disruption earlier in the week.
Spain on Monday introduced new arrangements for two-wheeled vehicles, as Gibraltar “reluctantly” introduced ‘ad hoc’ immigration checks on non-UK nationals to mirror similar measures on the Spanish side.
The changes triggered chaotic scenes during the rush hour on Monday even as both the Gibraltar and Spanish governments insisted on the need for a permanent agreement to guarantee post-Brexit fluidity for the thousands of people who cross the border daily.
In the wake of Monday’s disruption and against the backdrop of finger pointing in both directions, the Gibraltar Government said it had been in contact with Spanish officials to seek a resolution.
On Tuesday there were still delays and build-up of vehicles, especially in the morning, but traffic appeared to flower more smoothly, with two-wheeled vehicles channelled into a third lane.
“The Chief Minister spoke at length on Monday with political contacts in Spain to ensure fluidity was achieved,” a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place said.
“This included making clear that the arrangements that had been put in place by Spain cannot work as tried yesterday, for health and safety reasons, given the need to check immigration documentation of those seeking to access Gibraltar on two-wheeled transport.”
“The Chief Minister has proposed working together to ensure that the new proposed bike line should flow more easily into Gibraltar.”
The Gibraltar Government said Spain’s decision to begin scanning a “significant number” of passports, including those held by Gibraltar resident red ID card holders and some Spanish nationals, had quickly led to the build-up of long queues.
The changes in traffic flow arrangements on Monday further exacerbated the situation.
“Gibraltar was asked to guide vehicles into separate lanes following the Spanish measure [but] this was physically impossible and would have put Gibraltar immigration officials at risk,” No.6 Convent Place said.
The Government said it “has no issue with Spain setting up a lane specifically for motor bikes and scooters coming into Gibraltar”.
“Gibraltar already set such a lane up itself some years ago to separate queuing of cars, bikes and scooters in the area of the loop,” the spokesperson told the Chronicle.
But any changes “must be subject to cross-frontier consultation and agreement, not imposition”.
No.6 denied Spanish media reports that Spain had flagged the changes a fortnight ago and Gibraltar had failed to respond accordingly, adding Madrid “did not pursue proper consultation”, leading to the problems on Monday.
“Gibraltar now looks forward to working with the relevant Spanish authorities to establish a new, mutually beneficial traffic flow system,” No.6 said.
As for the reciprocal ‘ad hoc’ scanning of documents, Gibraltar will continue checking non-UK nationals “for as long as Spain does”.
Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix, the Socialist MP and Mayor of San Roque, said he had been in contact with Gibraltar and Spain’s ministries for foreign affairs and interior after the scenes at the border on Monday.
"We are going to work jointly between the Government of Spain and also the Government of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar so that access to the city of Gibraltar can be carried out with the appropriate logistics, with the right preparations through conversations between the different border control officials," Mr Ruiz Boix said.
The idea is to "separate a lane for two-wheeled vehicles from another access lane for four-wheeled vehicles,” he said, adding this would be achieved "through dialogue, through consensus, always seeking the best coexistence”.
"I hope that this action, this dialogue, will be what allows us to have the best relations between both parties and that the goal we have… is to achieve the desired shared prosperity zone that allows us to dream of dismantling that border control," he said.
“This is the challenge, and sporadic episodes will not be allowed to cloud the good relations and coexistence built over the last decades, especially when a Socialist government that believes in dialogue, consensus, and good neighbourliness leads the Government of Spain."
In a separate development, the Gibraltar Government announced plans for a major refurbishment of the pedestrian and vehicular entrances to Gibraltar at the land border with Spain.
The refurbishment had been delayed pending the negotiation of a treaty with the European Union, No.6 said.
“This is because of the plans to install a battery of automatic border control gates on the Gibraltar side, in addition to the manual checks, in order to allow for a more fluid access of persons in the event of a No Negotiated Outcome to the treaty,” it said in a statement.
“The use of these e-gates will allow more people to be processed at the same time.”
“The e-gate proposal already has planning permission [and] the intention is to submit the proposed refurbishment of the pedestrian arrivals hall and the external areas for vehicles to the Development and Planning Commission, given that it would make sense to carry out the two projects at the same time, in the event that the e-gates become necessary.”
The Minister for Tourism Vijay Daryanani, who is responsible for visitor entry points, said that the proposed refurbishment of the land access points will “dramatically improve the experience for the many millions of people who come through the border on an annual basis”.