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UK/EU treaty on Gib ‘complicated, but not impossible’

Archive image of Clara Martinez Alberola, Deputy Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom, and her former boss Michel Barnier. Photo by Aurore Martignoni/EC-Audiovisual Service

The legal framework underpinning a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar will be “very complicated” but “should not be impossible” to agree, according to a senior European Commission official who was deputy to former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Clara Martinez Alberola, who is currently the acting head of the Commission’s Task Force for Relations with the UK, said it should be possible to negotiate a “special” agreement for Gibraltar, much as the EU and the UK adopted a “very creative” post-Brexit model for Northern Ireland.

Speaking to Spain’s Efe news agency, she said the Commission was currently preparing a negotiating mandate “without touching on sovereignty issues, without touching on security issues or anything like that”.

But she added “the legal formula is complicated, very complicated”, with the Commission guarding against creating any precedent that could complicate negotiations with other third countries.

The EU and the UK, along with Gibraltar, will negotiate a treaty in the coming weeks and months to give effect to the framework agreement announced on New Year’s Eve.

The framework agreement opens the door to a treaty that could see Gibraltar become part of the Schengen area, effectively suppressing immigration controls at the border. The Rock could potentially enter customs arrangements with the EU too.

The framework agreement envisages a four-year implementation period during which Spain would have responsibility for Schengen checks on the Rock, but Frontex officers would carry out the work on the ground.

What happens beyond those four years has proved controversial – the presence of Spanish officers in Gibraltar
is a red line for the Gibraltar Government – but remains an unanswered question.

Ms Martinez said there was “no interest” in prolonging the negotiations for the treaty which, other than the need for an “innovative” legal formula, would essentially “reproduce” the contents of the framework agreement.

And she made clear too that while the treaty was of fundamental importance to Gibraltar and the neighbouring Campo de Gibraltar, it was not a priority for the EU.

"Let's be clear, the rest of the European Union should not be concerned about Gibraltar..,” she told Efe.

“It is a very localised problem, very specific, very important for Spain and Gibraltarians, but without great economic or political effects for the rest of Europe.”

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