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Will Spain follow in Portugal’s footsteps and fast-track UK travellers?

Portugal’s decision to open e-gates to British nationals to help them avoid non-EU passport control queues at Portuguese airports is being lauded as a tourism draw, so will Spain follow suit?

Will Spain follow in Portugal's footsteps and fast-track UK travellers?
Unless something is done about it, you can expect non-EU passport control queues at Spanish airports such as Barcelona's El Prat to be very long this summer. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

One of the consequences of Brexit that British travellers have become most aware of since 2021 is how upon arrival in Spain or another EU/Schengen Area country from the UK, they now have to stand in the queue for third-country nationals.

This can hardly be considered the worst Brexit setback, but it has meant plenty of waiting around at passport control for British nationals (EU residents and tourists alike), in some cases resulting in flights being missed. 

Portugal has recently made headlines by becoming the first EU nation to fast-track British travellers despite their new third-country status, opening e-gates to them at airports in Faro, Lisbon, Porto and Madeira where they can scan their passports more swiftly. Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan are also reported to be able to enjoy this travel perk in Portugal.

By contrast, doubts about entry rules for UK tourists arriving in Spain post-Brexit have been revived by what’s been happening in Gibraltar in April.

Border officials have reportedly tightened checks on some Brits entering Spain via The Rock to require proof of accommodation and enough money to pay for their stay. 

These are pre-existing EU regulations which are potentially applicable to any third-country national arriving in Spain or other EU/EEA/Schengen countries, and whilst such requirements are usually down to an individual border officer’s judgement, there are no reports of it happening as frequently at Spanish airports as at the Gibraltar border.

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

With this in mind, are Spanish authorities likely to soon adopt a similar system to Portugal’s to allow British nationals through more easily and with fewer checks?

There is no official comment on this on the part of the Spanish government. 

However, as Spain is currently seeing a huge resurgence of its tourism numbers to pre-pandemic levels, Spain’s Airlines Association (ALA) has called for more police officers to be deployed before the summer to prevent some of the travel chaos seen at airports’ passport and security controls over the Easter holidays. 

More than 3,000 passengers are believed to have missed their flights at Madrid’s Barajas airport over Holy Week as a result of the holdups at third-country nationals’ passport queues.

For ALA’s president Javier Gándara, the main issue to be resolved is that of British nationals, as “this will be the first summer with the requirement to check UK passports and the first period of normalised air traffic after the British Government eliminated all Covid restrictions”.

There is no talk yet of Britons being able to use e-gates at Spanish airports, which suggests that Spain will not be willing to contravene EU/Schengen rules, at the very least until the new entry-exit EES system that will replace passport stamping with scanning is implemented (among other changes), perhaps in late 2022.

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

But an increase in the border workforce will no doubt help relieve waiting times.

The number of British tourists visiting Spain has been increasing over the previous months and despite Brexit and Covid restrictions, the United Kingdom remains the main tourism market for the Spanish economy in 2022.

If Spain allows entry to unvaccinated UK tourists in the coming months, by the summer even more will be willing to come, slowly edging closer to the 18 million British holidaymakers the country welcomed in 2019. 

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BREXIT: Spain and EU suggest removing Gibraltar border

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain's top diplomat said Friday.

BREXIT: Spain and EU suggest removing Gibraltar border

“The text presented to the United Kingdom is a comprehensive proposal that includes provisions on mobility with the aim of removing the border fence and guaranteeing freedom of movement,” Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said, according to a ministry statement.

Such a move would make Spain, as representative of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, “responsible for controlling Gibraltar’s external borders”, it said.

The Schengen Area allows people to move freely across the internal borders of 26 member states, four of which are not part of the EU.

There was no immediate response from London.

A tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip, Gibraltar’s economy provides a lifeline for some 15,000 people who cross in and out to work every day.

Most are Spanish and live in the impoverished neighbouring city of La Línea.

Although Brexit threw Gibraltar’s future into question, raising fears it would create a new “hard border” with the EU, negotiators reached a landmark deal for it to benefit from the rules of the Schengen zone just hours before Britain’s departure on January 1, 2021.

Details of the agreement have yet to be settled.

With a land area of just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles), Gibraltar is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents and the deal was crucial to avoid slowing cross-border goods trade with new customs procedures.

Albares said the proposal would mean Madrid “taking on a monitoring and protection role on behalf of the EU with regards to the internal market with the removal of the customs border control” between Spain and Gibraltar.

The deal would “guarantee the free movement of goods between the EU and Gibraltar” while guaranteeing respect for fair competition, meaning businesses in the enclave would “compete under similar conditions to those of other EU operators, notably those in the surrounding area”.

Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back in a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the frontier.

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