Gibraltar’s trade with the EU will remain “a priority issue” that Britain will ensure is taken into account during Brexit negotiations, the UK Government said yesterday.
The reference to Gibraltar and other Overseas Territories was made in a document published yesterday in which the UK set out its plans for a future customs agreement with the European Union.
Unlike the UK, neither Gibraltar nor the other British territories are part of the EU customs union. That means Gibraltar already has a so-called ‘hard border’ with the EU in terms of customs controls.
Even so, the wider issue of Gibraltar’s trade with the EU remains on the UK’s radar even though the proposals set out in the latest document are not directly relevant to the Rock.
“Trade in goods with the EU will remain a priority issue for Gibraltar and the other Overseas Territories, and the UK Government will continue to work with their governments to ensure their priorities are taken into account,” the document states.
But the document also raised some eyebrows here after it referred to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as “the UK’s only land border” with the EU.
While this is technically correct – Gibraltar is not part of the UK – the Rock is nevertheless part of the EU and has a land border with Spain.
In the document, Britain outlined its hopes for a future customs agreement and an interim deal to ease companies’ Brexit concerns.
But the plans were immediately described by one senior EU official as “fantasy”.
After a slow start to negotiations to end more than 40 years of union, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is keen for the discussion to move beyond the EU’s focus on a divorce agreement to consider how a new relationship could work.
The EU said it would “carefully” study the proposals, including measures for an interim customs agreement and two suggestions for a new trade partnership, but the terms of divorce needed to be settled first.
Britain’s Brexit minister, David Davis, said in a statement: “The UK is the EU’s biggest trading partner so it is in the interest of both sides that we reach an agreement on our future relationship.”
“The UK starts from a strong position and we are confident we can deliver a result that is good for business here in the UK and across the EU.”
Britain lost a battle earlier this year to discuss the immediate divorce and future ties alongside each other.
The EU said the two sides must first make progress on the rights of expatriates, Britain’s border with EU member Ireland and a financial settlement, the lack of progress on which Davis said had made the EU’s chief negotiator “quite cross”.
While welcoming the proposals, the European Commission, the EU’s executive, again said it would not budge from its stance that progress on the divorce needed to be made first.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit point-man, underlined the distance between the two sides.
“To be in and out of the customs union and ‘invisible borders’ is a fantasy,” he said on Twitter. “First need to secure citizens rights and a financial settlement”
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