Brexit clock 'still ticking over Gibraltar', warns British enclave's leader

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By Alice Tidey
A worker lowers the EU flag at the British territory of Gibraltar, Friday Jan. 31, 2020.
A worker lowers the EU flag at the British territory of Gibraltar, Friday Jan. 31, 2020.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Javier Fergo

The UK and the EU may have reached a post-Brexit deal but the clock "is still ticking" over Gibraltar, the leader of the British enclave stressed on Thursday.

In a statement released on Twitter, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo congratulated British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for striking a trade deal with Brussels but emphasised that it "does not cover Gibraltar".

"For us, and for the people of the Campo de Gibraltar around us, the clock is still ticking.

"We continue to work, hand in glove with the United Kingdom, to finalise negotiation with Spain of agreement for a proposed treaty between the Eu and the UK in relation to Gibraltar.

"I am optimistic that we will be able to finalise that agreement," he added.

Gibraltar has been a British territory for three centuries and remains a strategic stronghold for Britain with more than half of the world's marine traffic passing through the Strait of Gibraltar. It is set to leave the bloc, just like the rest of the UK, on December 31.

Spain has tried to recover the 6.2 square kilometres territory and insists on a bilateral agreement over sovereignty, which the UK rejects, arguing the Gibraltarians must be included in any discussions. A 2002 referendum saw the Rock's inhabitants vote against a joint sovereignty proposal. 

Both the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, and his European Affairs Minister, Arancha Gonzalez, also highlighted on Thursday that "there is no agreement between Spain and Britain on Gibraltar" and that talks were still ongoing. 

The British government, meanwhile, said in a statement that it had "held constructive discussions" with Spain over future relationship issues relating to Gibraltar and that although an agreement had not yet been reached, discussions would continue to "safeguard Gibraltar's interests" and mitigate the effect of the end of the transition period.

"This includes ensuring border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the communities that live on both sides," it went on. 

Picardo has previously said he wants the enclave to join the Schengen Area which allows free movement through 26 European countries — 22 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

This would mean Britons travelling to the territory would be subjected to border controls for the first time. 

One of the sticking points of the talks has been who patrols the border with Spain wanting its police to do it, a proposal roundly rejected by Picardo.

The task could instead be handed out to Frontex, the EU's border agency.