Brexit: EU waives visas for Brits despite Gibraltar row

European Union lawmakers approved a law Wednesday that will allow Britons visa-free visits even after a "no deal" Brexit, despite a furious dispute over the status of Gibraltar.

Brexit: EU waives visas for Brits despite Gibraltar row
Photo: AFP

The European Parliament's justice committee approved the text of the law that already had the backing of member states and should now be formally confirmed.

Britain is due to leave the European Union, perhaps as early as next week, but The law allows British visitors 90-day trips to the Schengen passport-free zone.

Implementation will depend on Britain according EU citizens reciprocal rights, but it has said it will do so and the principle of the law has broad support.

Nevertheless, the text itself triggered a bitter row in Brussels, after member states — at Spain's urging — referred in a footnote to the draft to Gibraltar as a “colony of the British crown”.

The United Nations does legally list Gibraltar as a “non-self-governing territory” under colonial rule, but Britain insists it is part of “the UK family” and that its citizens freely voted to remain British.

Britain's decision to leave the EU has revived controversy over Spain's long-standing claim on the territory, against the backdrop of Spanish elections.

But with Brexit day looming, and lawmakers rushing to complete preparations, EU leaders acted to elbow aside the British MEP at the head of the justice committee.

'April 12th is coming'

This allowed a Bulgarian colleague to nod through the text under protest, and lawmakers approved the law by 38 votes to eight, all but ensuring its passage.

On Monday, the law's “rapporteur”, British MEP Claude Moraes, was forced to step aside after EU leaders concluded that he had a conflict of interest.   

READ MORE: British MEP loses Brexit visa role over Gibraltar row

Members protested this amounted to an attack on parliament's prerogatives, but Moraes' Bulgarian colleague Sergei Stanishev nevertheless steered the law through, arguing that “April 12 is coming”.

British Conservative MEP Daniel Dalton, a committee member, reacted angrily.   

“The EU likes to speak the language of self-determination and democracy, but the EU's justice committee has voted to ignore that today,” he tweeted.   

“No-deal Brexit legislation on visas just passed. The text falsely asserts that Gibraltar is a colony.”

But a leading Spanish MEP, Esteban Gonzalez Pons, seized upon the law as a diplomatic victory for Madrid.

“Spain has obtained fundamental support from the European institutions in the dispute over Gibraltar by considering this territory a colony,” he argued.   

“The mention of Gibraltar as a colony will be fundamental in attempting to resolve the dispute over this territory in a post-Brexit scenario.”   

Brexit itself will not change the status of Gibraltar, but Madrid has been keen to establish that it will retain a veto over any future agreement between Britain and the EU that touches on the territory.

  By AFP's Toni Cerdá 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.