Plans for legislation exempting UK nationals from requiring the travel permit after March 29th have stalled after the European Parliament knocked back Spanish demands to describe Gibraltar as a “colony”.
Spain insisted, and won reluctant support from the other 26 member states, that the draft legislation include a footnote detailing the tiny peninsula at its foot as a “colony”.
But on Wednesday morning the European parliament rejected the language proposed by the council of the European Union, the body that represents the member states.
Unless the impasse is resolved, it could mean that British citizens– including Gibraltarians crossing over the border to La Linea – may need to pay £52 for a visa to travel to Europe, even for short visits.
The latest development came within hours of Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell defending the government’s handling of Brexit in the Spanish congress. He insisted that Spain had pushed for an advantage and that, “for the first time in a long time”, Gibraltar had been described as “a colony” in an EU document.
At the same time In Brussels, however, MEPs said the controversial clause had not been in the original draft prepared by the European Commission and given initial approval by the parliament, but was subsequently introduced by the European Council at Spain’s insistence.
It marked the third time the member states’ proposal has been sent back by MEPs and now brings the possibility that the legislation will not be in place by the time Brexit deadline arrives on March 29.
Petr Ježek, a Czech MEP who is part of the parliament’s negotiating team for the proposal, accused Spain of “playing with fire” with just weeks to go before the UK leaves the EU.
“The negotiation is stuck,” he told The Guardian. “Brexit will hurt immensely and we should do everything possible to soften the impact rather than create further problems for half a billion people. If there is no agreement, and no visa exemption for the UK, the British government may adopt a similar approach – and that would be a disaster.”
Ježek said the European parliament’s position had been adopted unanimously and that MEPs could not accept “colonial language which has no place in the world”.
Instead they suggest the footnote merely states that there is a “controversy between Spain and the United Kingdom concerning the sovereignty of Gibraltar”.
if the impasse is not broken and the UK crashes out on March 29, British nationals seeking to travel to an EU country for fewer than 90 days would be required to pay €60 (€52) for a Schengen visa that can take two weeks to be authorised.
If the House of Commons ratify’s Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, British nationals would continue to be treated as EU citizens during a 21-month transition period, providing more time for a solution on the visa exemption to be found.
The agreement states that British citizens travelling to the Schengen area for stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period should be granted visa-free travel.