UK objects to EU’s 'irrelevant' reference to Gibraltar as ‘a colony’ in visa-free travel proposal
The UK has objected to Gibraltar being described as a "colony" in draft European Union legislation allowing UK nationals to travel to the EU without visas after Brexit.
Proposals that would mean Britons do not require a visa for short visits to the EU after Brexit, even in the event of no deal, are a step closer to being rubber-stamped.
EU ambassadors have agreed that British citizens – including those from Gibraltar - travelling to the Schengen area for stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period should be granted visa-free travel.
But the Spanish Government is pushing for the inclusion of a footnote in the draft legislation describing Gibraltar as a "colony" and referring to "controversy" over its status.
The text of the footnote reads: “Gibraltar is a colony of the British Crown. There is a controversy between Spain and the United Kingdom concerning the sovereignty over Gibraltar, a territory for which a solution has to be reached in light of the relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly of the United Nations.”
The UK's ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, objected to it at a meeting in Brussels earlier.
Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman insisted Gibraltar was not a "colony".
Gibraltar was defined as a "crown colony" when Britain joined the European bloc in 1973 but London reclassified it as a "British overseas territory" in 2002.
"Gibraltar is not a colony and it is completely inappropriate to describe in this way," a spokeswoman for the UK Government said.
"Gibraltar is a full part of the UK family."
The text agreed by the 27 governments will be discussed by the European Parliament and the EU executive in order to finalise a regulation giving Britons visa-free access.
The row highlights the fact that even before Brexit has been given effect, the EU is lining up behind Spain on issues relating to Gibraltar.
Recalling how EU policy on Gibraltar had so far largely favoured Britain, which joined the bloc before Spain, a senior EU official told Reuters recently: "Now the table has turned.”
"The Union position...was the British position..,” the official said.
“But with Brexit, the Union position is now the Spanish position.”
“We will always take the side of a member against a non-member.”
There is, however, concern among other EU members that Madrid's hard line could disrupt efforts to ease Britain out of the bloc.
EU diplomats point to the issue as one of those that could fray the unity the 27 have shown in negotiations up to now.
The Gibraltar Government said the international legal status of Gibraltar was not a matter of argument, but rather of fact.
Gibraltar is listed on the list of non-self-governing territories maintained by the United Nations.
The Government of Gibraltar and the UK Government are both on record as having said that Gibraltar should be removed from this list through the exercise of the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar.
“The irony is that it is Spain itself that is keeping Gibraltar on the UN list and then using our presence there to label Gibraltar as a ‘colony’,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“This demonstrates the importance of annual attendance at the sessions of the C-24 in New York each June, which the GSLP/Liberal Government is committed to and which the GSD administration had abandoned.”
“The use of such language, were it to materialise in the final documents, does not assist the creation a climate of understanding and trust between Gibraltar and Spain as we prepare to leave the EU.”
“In fact, it would achieve the very opposite and serve to engender more conflict as opposed to more cooperation.”
“It is, in any case, totally irrelevant to our departure from the European Union and says more about Spain’s anachronistic obsession with Gibraltar than it does about anything else.”
“This is totally out of place in the modern Europe of today.”
The draft EU text states that the visa-free travel arrangements “…will not cover British overseas territories citizens who have acquired their citizenship from a connection with Gibraltar.”
Gibraltarians are entitled to full British citizenship – and most hold British citizen passports - meaning they will benefit from the measure.
In any event, the final text of the proposal for visa-free travel has yet to be formally approved and adopted.
The final text of the proposal for visa-free travel has yet to be rubber stamped.
A statement issued by the Council of the EU said: "Ambassadors mandated the Council Presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament on this legislative proposal.”
"According to EU rules, visa exemption is granted on condition of reciprocity.”
"The government of the United Kingdom has stated that it does not intend to require a visa from EU citizens travelling to the UK for short stays.”
"In the event that the United Kingdom introduces a visa requirement for nationals of at least one member state in the future, the existing reciprocity mechanism would apply and the three institutions and the member states would commit to act without delay in applying the mechanism."
MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Jon Nazca