Gibraltar is considering joining the EU Schengen zone in an attempt to facilitate the movement of people across its border post Brexit.
The country's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo revealed his possible plans in an interview with AFP on Friday with Britain and Gibraltar set to formally leave the European Union in less than two weeks time.
For the tiny British enclave that sits on Spain’s southernmost tip, the relationship with its neighbour is especially important with thousands of crossings taking place each day.
Gibraltar is strategically important to the UK, given its location just 12 miles from the North African coast. The outcrop is not only a popular tourist destination, it is also home to a UK military base, a port and airport.
Free movement across its borders will be vital for the two countries moving forward and will be central in talks to take place during the Brexit transition period between 1 February and 31 December.
The move would mean passport-free movement between Gibraltar and Spain for around 15,000 commuters who are said to cross the border each day for work.
During his interview with AFP and referring to the passport-free zone, Mr Picardo said, "We talked about this issue before Brexit... about Gibraltar becoming part of the Schengen zone.
He added, “Does it make sense for the EU that 2.5 square miles (6.2sq km) at the southernmost tip of Iberia should not be accessible to EU citizens? I don’t think it does.
"If you look at other microstates in Europe, they take the benefit of common travel areas with Schengen, even if they're not entirely part of the Schengen information system," he said.
Britain is one of only six EU nations that are not currently a part of the Schengen Zone, but if Gibraltar were to join, it would be "a positive step", Picardo said.
Despite Spain ceding Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, in recent years there has been a long running dispute between the two countries with Spain looking to take back control of the island.
In 1969, tensions boiled over and saw the closure of the frontier by dictator General Franco, which did not fully open again until 1985.
During his interview, Picardo pointed out that Franco had repeatedly tried to use Gibraltar as a bargaining tool and that this had been the case with successive Spanish governments.
He said, “If you think where we were in our relationship with Spain 100 years ago, we were in a better place perhaps than we are today.
“Putting pressure at the frontier does not tend to persuade the people of Gibraltar that we’ve ever been wrong about wanting to remain entirely British.”
January 14, 2021