THE UK’S Europe Minister, James Cleverly, has insisted that recent issues with strict Schengen controls at the Gibraltar border are not a negotiating ploy by Spain.
Speaking alongside Julian Braithwaite, Director General for Europe at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Cleverly said the current focus of talks between the two sides is on the role Spanish immigration officers should hold in implementing Schengen code at Gibraltar if and when a deal is confirmed.
While giving evidence to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister was not aware of difficulties experienced recently by Brits trying to cross into Spain.
Asked whether the recent outrage caused by Spain turning Brits back into Gibraltar, having to justify their reason for travel and show they had enough money to stay was a tactic by the Spanish to show their strength in the run up to negotiations, Cleverly denied that this was the case.
While he said he had not heard the reports of Brits not being allowed into Spain, Cleverly stated: “It’s undesirable but it’s a by-product of the administrative processes that you have at borders.”
Instead, the Europe Minister was keen to show relations with the Spanish are good. He said: “I’m not detecting anything that would lead me to believe that there is a formal or mandated toughening of their position on this.”
While Cleverly may not have heard of any border problems, the Olive Press has.
Policia Nacional officers at the border were demanding non-EU nationals, including British passport holders, provide evidence of onward travel and hotel reservations in Spain before allowing them to cross, according to several people on social media.
One British holidaymaker who crossed into Spain on Tuesday said all British holidaymakers were also being asked to show proof of funds for the duration of their stay in Spain.
“At the border we had to prove we had €100 per day per person for the duration of our stay,” Julie Quartermaine told the Olive Press. “The woman officer was apologetic but said she had to see enough for the 10 days we planned to be in Spain either in cash or in a bank account.
“I had to pull up my online banking on my phone and show I had at least two grand to cover me and my husband,” she said.
The couple flew into Gibraltar on the early flight from London Heathrow to spend 10 days at their holiday home up the coast in Manilva.
“It was quite a shock and God knows what would have happened if we couldn’t show we had the funds,” added Julie, from Sutton in Surrey. “There was a man ahead of us in the queue emptying out his wallet to show he had the cash.”
It appeared that the border guards had suddenly started to apply the more stringent Schengen entry requirements that came into place with Brexit for Brits travelling to Europe through an external border.
However, such rules are suspended at Gibraltar’s border with Spain while negotiations for a post-Brexit agreement regarding the future of the Rock are ongoing.
The 2020 New Year’s Eve agreement forms the basis for current attempts to form a treaty. The pillars of this agreement were a common travel area between Gibraltar and Spain, allowing unrestricted mobility.
It was also agreed then that Frontex officers, an EU border agency, would carry out border patrol rather than Spanish officers, for at least the first four years.
Braithwaite told the Committee that current negotiations are looking at how this can be implemented going forward.
“The nub is the issue around mobility and particularly implementing the agreement between us and the Spanish about how Schengen would work, and the degree to which Spanish officials would be involved in that and how it would be managed in a way that was seamless”, the FCDO official said.
While Cleverly would not offer a date at which he expects a deal may be reached, he confirmed he is confident the issue can be resolved and that talks are underway in a positive manner.
In response to the comments, the Gibraltarian government released a statement welcoming the UK’s optimism.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “I have known James Cleverly for many years, even before he was Minister for Europe. We have a very good relationship and his statements before the European Scrutiny Committee are only the latest demonstration of the strength of our personal and political relationship.”
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