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Row over ‘colony’ reference festers

A solution has yet to be agreed to resolve the row over a reference to Gibraltar as “a colony” in draft legislation to ensure reciprocal visa-free travel for British and EU citizens after Brexit.

The matter was discussed on Wednesday at a trilogue meeting between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, which must all agree on the text before it can be approved.

The footnote was introduced by the Council earlier this month at Spain’s insistence but the legislation has stalled after the committee handling the draft for the European Parliament rejected the inclusion of the clause.

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs [LIBE], through its British rapporteur for this file, the Labour MEP Claude Moraes, has made clear that the clause is unacceptable because it was not in the draft approved unanimously by MEPs on January 29, or in the original document prepared by the European Commission.

Mr Moraes had proposed alternative language to resolve the impasse by the European Council, pressed by Spain, is insisting on including the reference to colony.

The Romanian presidency of the European Council will now take the impasse back to the EU member states in the hope of finding a solution.

Despite Spanish MEPs pushing for the inclusion of the colony reference, one MEP on the LIBE committee told the Chronicle there was a majority view across the political groups that the offending words must be removed.

The European Council and the European Parliament have until March 26 to resolve this in order to ensure the measure can be approved before the Brexit deadline.

Unless the impasse is resolved, it could mean that British citizens– including Gibraltarians – travelling to Europe may need to pay £52 for a visa even for short visits.

Sources in Brussels told this newspaper that Spain is angry at being accused of blocking this deal, with Spanish MEPs and diplomats instead pointing the finger of blame at the UK.

But increasingly the Spanish are being seen as “pariahs” for causing an unnecessary row that has complicated vitally-important legislation, particularly in the event of a hard Brexit.

Petr Jezek, a Czech MEP on the LIBE committee who has been vocal in his criticism of the Spanish stance and the European Council’s position, tweeted yesterday: “On negotiations on the EU regulation on visa-free travel after hard #Brexit people tell me that it is disgraceful that an entity such as the European Union allows the term ‘colony’ to be discussed just to appease a member state.”

“I cannot dispute their argument.”

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