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Treaty negotiators still pushing for ‘early agreement’ as Gib rehearses ‘no deal’ readiness

A tabletop exercise rehearsed the response to a no deal situation.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said negotiators for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar held a “very successful” round of talks this week and continue to strive for “an early agreement” acceptable to all parties.

Speaking on GBC’s Direct Democracy on Tuesday night as the latest formal round of negotiations concluded in London, Mr Picardo said “everybody is trying to ensure that we get there”.

“Everybody’s negotiating hard, trying to achieve objectives which are common between us and some which are designed to achieve more for each of our particular sides, and that’s normal, that’s why it’s a negotiation,” he said.

“Everybody has tried their best to ensure that we edge ever closer together, and I think that we are still, on the basis of what I’ve seen for the past 48 hours, trying to work towards an early agreement and hoping that that will be possible.”

In parallel to the negotiation, Gibraltar and the UK continue to prepare contingencies in the event of there being no negotiated outcome to the talks.

On Wednesday the Gibraltar Government conducted a table-top exercise to test its planning assumptions in the event of no deal.

The exercise, which was directed by the Civil Contingencies Coordinator Ivor Lopez, involved 19 government departments alongside personnel from the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the UK Ministry of Defence.

The six-hour exercise simulated the consequences of the impact of a breakdown in negotiations between the UK and the EU, assessing the impact of what might happen on day one following news of no deal, and also on day 30 and subsequently.

A full debriefing will follow to identify key issues as part of preparatory work for an eventuality that both sides in the negotiation want to avoid.

Speaking to participants, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia highlighted the importance of the work preparing contingencies for a no deal scenario, which he said remained “a very real” possibility until a treaty had been concluded.

“The Government will mitigate against the negative effects of no treaty in those areas where this is possible,” Dr Garcia said.

“There are some areas where it will be impossible to provide mitigation, and in those areas the no negotiated outcome scenario will simply reflect what it means to be outside the European Union.”

“This will be a different world where our interactions with Spain and with the EU will be more cumbersome, bureaucratic and time-consuming than anything we have known before.”

“The Government remains firmly committed to the negotiation of a treaty but has a duty to prepare for no treaty at the same time.”

As has been stated before, the two sides in the negotiation are close but “not quite there yet”.

One of the core aims of the negotiation is to guarantee border fluidity by establishing a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone, effectively removing immigration controls at the border.

Schengen checks would instead be carried out at the airport and port after clearing Gibraltar immigration.

But those checks would require EU oversight, to be provided by Spain - as the nearest Schengen member - with assistance from Frontex as set out in the New Years Eve framework agreement.

How those Schengen checks will work in practice is one of the remaining areas still under negotiation.

“What we’re going to do is ensure that we provide those in a way that doesn’t offend the sensitivities of either Spain, which is the neighbouring Schengen state, or the sensitivities of Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.

“And the way that that is going to work and how that is going to be designed is one of the things that we are in the process of agreeing.”

“It’s no secret to say that there would be different models that work for each side.”

“Some of the models that work for one of the sides might not work for the other and we have to find the model that would work for all of us.”

“Detailed announcements about how these things will work will be made when the arrangements have been finally agreed by the two relevant parties, which are the United Kingdom and the European Union, because they [the EU] are the ones that are responsible for Schengen.”

“Of course, because Spain is the neighbouring member state, we’ve always acknowledged that Spain has responsibility for entry into Schengen through Spain and they will have to have the discharge of that responsibility in a way that is down to them to decide is appropriate.”

“And we have also agreed, in the context of the New Years Eve agreement, that Frontex would be discharging some of those responsibilities in order to assist us to get away from some of the areas of potential disagreement because of sensitivities.”

Although there is no deadline for the end of the negotiation, all sides wish to see it progress to the next phase as soon as possible, and preferably this year.

At least one more formal round of negotiation is like before the Christmas break.

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