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GIBRALTAR

Spain won’t close the border with Gibraltar after Brexit, says foreign minister

Spain has no plans to close its border with Gibraltar after Britain leaves the European Union, its foreign minister said in an interview published on Sunday.

Spain won't close the border with Gibraltar after Brexit, says foreign minister
Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis attends an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council, in Brussels, on January 16, 2017. Photo: AFP

The tiny British territory on Spain's southern tip, which is home to some 32,000 people, depends on the small land border with Spain for much of its supplies and visitor flow.

Some 10,000 people also make the crossing to work daily from the Spanish region that surrounds Gibraltar called Campo de Gibraltar, and they fear that Madrid may make things more difficult at the frontier.

“There is no intention to close the border. The idea is that Spaniards who live in the Campo de Gibraltar and who work in Gibraltar continue to do so,” Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said in an interview published in daily newspaper El Pais.

Spanish dictator Francisco Franco closed the border with Gibraltar outright in 1969. Free travel between the two sides was only fully restored in 1985, ten years after his death.

Madrid's decision to relax its laws on the border was seen as part of its bid to gain support to enter the European Community, the precursor to the EU, which it achieved in 1986.

The territory has been under British-rule since 1713, when it was ceded in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht following the War of the Spanish Succession.

Spain has long tried to reclaim Gibraltar. After Britain voted last year to leave the EU, Madrid proposed shared sovereignty over the territory, arguing this would allow the territory to remain in the bloc.

But Gibraltarians want to stay British, as demonstrated in 2002 when they rejected a referendum on shared sovereignty with Spain.

READ ALSO: Spain will have veto over Gibraltar in Brexit talks

ABORTION

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.

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