Let’s talk about Gibraltar: tobacco, land-reclamation and environment are in focus for Spain and the UK

BREXIT has induced the UK and Spain to talk, once again, about Gibraltar.

The two nations will negotiate the largest bilateral agreement on the Rock for the first time in more than a decade.

Gibraltar Ape
A Gibraltarian ape with Spain in the background

The Spanish and British Governments have agreed on a new framework, consisting of four Memoranda of Understanding, on the most controversial issues that will come into force after the British-EU “divorce”, Spanish newspaper El País has reported.

The pact aims for a more balanced link between the Rock and the Campo de Gibraltar, an Andalusian region battling unemployment and contraband problems.

Four texts have reportedly been signed by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, and the British Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington. The agreements relate to tobacco, the environment, Customs, police co-operation and the rights of cross-border workers.

These have been hailed as the first steps towards a viable understanding between Madrid and London over a 300-year-old bone-in-the-throat issue. (The 2006 “agreements” of Córdoba were never applied due to trust issues between the parties.)

In principle, the new accords will only function during the transition period of the Brexit – less than two years – and are unlikely to satisfy both parties. The new texts specify that nothing “will entail a modification of the respective legal positions of the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom with respect to the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Gibraltar”. In other words, the Spanish government will not be able to use this framework to talk about co- sovereignty until 2021, at the earliest.

The texts focus on the need to reduce the tobacco price differential between territories. In Gibraltar, taxation is minimal – which makes contraband an appealing prospect for smugglers. The differential, the agreement states, should not exceed 32 percent of the average tobacco price in June 2020. That gap stands at 48 percent at the time of writing.

The other documents relate mainly to the exchange of information and the creation of joint committees to govern the British colony, considered by Spain a tax haven.

A technical commission will exchange information on other controversial issues such as land reclamation – placing landfill in waters of disputed sovereignty to expand Gibraltar’s surface area.

The rights of citizens, perhaps the most sensitive issue on the agenda, are expected to conform to the provisions of that European protocol. A joint commission will be created to pursue this part of the agreement.