Spanish border guards step up checks on Britons in surprise Gibraltar move

Spanish border guards have stepped up border checks on non-EU citizens (including many Britons) entering Spain from Gibraltar, demanding that they prove where they are going and staying in the country.

Spanish border guards step up checks on Britons in surprise Gibraltar move
Spaniards cross the border between Spain and Gibraltar to go to work. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Spanish border guards have reportedly started implementing stricter border checks on non-EU citizens leaving The Rock for Spain, in a surprise escalation that has surprised everyone including Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

Tweeting this week, Picardo said that the Gibraltarian government has received reports of a change in approach to Non-Gibraltarian, Third Country Nationals, crossing the frontier into Spain,” and added that he “will be taking up these issues with the UK and Spanish authorities.”

It is believed that Spanish authorities are now demanding non-EU nationals travelling on foot, including British passport holders, are able to demonstrate both travel and accommodation plans with bookings before allowing them to enter into Spain.

Similar checks are not being made on travellers crossing the border by car, however, The Local understands.

Yet, as of Monday reports have emerged that many British citizens, even Gibraltarian blue card residence permit holders, are being denied entry in Spain, but not non-EU nationals – including Britons – who already have official Spanish residency, nor Gibraltarians with red residence cards.

The Spanish Policía Nacional, however, claims it is maintaining the same border checks it always has and that nothing will change until a full Brexit agreement is finally made. 

Negotiations on a deal outlining Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU are ongoing, and it remains to be seen if Gibraltar – a British overseas territory that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU by 96 percent – will have some kind of special arrangement to maintain frictionless access to the Schengen area.

READ MORE: What are the reasons for being denied entry into Spain?

A Gibraltar-based source familiar with the negotiations explained to The Local that “we have had temporary bridging measures agreed with Spain about how the frontier operates” until an agreement is made, but that “it seems these bridging measures were not respected” this week. 

On the ground many Llanitos (as Gibraltarians are known) believe the stricter border checks coincided with replacement border guards brought in to cover Easter holiday breaks who were unfamiliar with the bridging measures, or that they could be related to the recent arrival of two nuclear submarines (one British, one American) that docked in Gibraltar.

Maintaining a fluid border arrangement is essential for both Spaniards and Gibraltarians as over 10,000 Spaniards cross the border to work in Gibraltar every day, and many Brits based in Gibraltar have family and property in Spain. 

But domestic politics over the border could also play a role in the future relationship.

If, as seems probable, the Spanish right wins the next general election, many in Gibraltar fear that any deal that is eventually made will be rendered useless and immediately renegotiated, at best, or, at worst, torn up.

The Spanish right has long used blood and soil nationalist rhetoric against Gibraltar to whip-up political support in the Campo de Gibraltar area of Cádiz province, one of the poorest parts of Spain.

Although it is hoped a deal based on the framework agreement signed by both Britain and Spain on December 31st 2020 will be made at some point in the first half of 2022, it seems Picardo and his government are covering all their bases and preparing for the potentiality of a no-deal scenario. 

Some weeks ago, Gibraltar’s government began advising citizens on how to prepare for and mitigate the consequences of a potential failed negotiation, and is expected to provide more information on the increased border checks at some point this week.

This is not the first time there has been confusion at the Spain-Gibraltar border, however.

In 2021, The Local reported how a British national was refused entry into Spain because of a missing passport stamp that Spanish border officials had themselves forgotten to stamp, highlighting the confusion and potential misunderstandings that can happen while negotiations are still ongoing.

READ ALSO: Passport stamp or scan? What foreigners at Spain’s borders should expect

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Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.