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Gibraltar Brexit deal 'close' as Brits crossing into Spain use fake bookings

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Gibraltar Brexit deal 'close' as Brits crossing into Spain use fake bookings
Police sources told Andalusian daily Europa Sur that some of these fake bookings were made just moments before presenting their documents to Spanish border agents. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

As Spain and the UK come 'very close' to signing an agreement on the post-Brexit status of Gibraltar, a report claims that 90 percent of hotel bookings shown by UK nationals and other non-EU travellers at The Rock's border with Spain are fraudulent.

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Spain and the UK may finally be on the verge of signing a Gibraltar Brexit deal, seven years after the referendum and almost three years after the broader UK-EU deal was signed. The renewed optimism follows comments from Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares that "we are very, very close” to finalising an agreement.

Albares met recently with the UK's new Foreign Secretary David Cameron at a NATO meeting in Brussels and noted that the former Prime Minister's surprise return to government has aided progress in negotiations: "Today we have made progress, because David Cameron has shown a willingness to reach an agreement.”

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“I would sign a deal with Britain over Gibraltar tomorrow,” Albares told journalists, adding that both the UK and Spain “agree that we have to move forward as soon as possible."

However, the foreign minister acknowledged that there are still some details yet to be worked out. If previous rounds of negotiations are anything to go by this, this will likely be the use of Gibraltar's airport and the role of Spanish border guards.

The imminent Gibraltar deal comes as a time when it's been reported in the Spanish press that many UK nationals have been using fake hotel bookings in order to try and bypass the rules and trick their way through border checks.

Spanish police estimate that as many as 90 percent of the hotel reservations presented by third-country nationals (not just Britons) at the border are fraudulently made in order to gain entry to Spain.

Police sources told Andalusian daily Europa Sur that some of these fake bookings were made just moments before presenting their documents to Spanish border agents.

Many hotel and apartment platforms allow reservations to be made without any deposit or cancellation fee, allowing UK nationals and other non-EU nationals to simply cancel their booking once they cross the border.

Since January 1st 2021, UK nationals, like any third-country national, have had to comply with the entry requirements set out in the Schengen Borders Code, including the need to justify the purpose of travel and conditions of their planned stay, as well as proving sufficient financial means to support themselves during their maximum 90 out of 180 days stay, and crucially proof of accommodation.

In practice, that means that many Britons living or visiting Gibraltar and who want to cross over into Spain for a few hours or days cannot do so as easily as they could when they were EU nationals before Brexit.

As UK and other non-EU nationals crossing the Gibraltar-Spain border on foot or by car cannot present a valid return flight ticket, the need to provide additional documentation such as proof of accommodation is even more important for border guards, as somewhat of a safeguard that these third-country nationals will abide by the Schengen rules.

READ ALSO: What Brits need to know before crossing the border from Gibraltar to Spain

This report about fraudulent bookings may explain why around 35 people, the majority of them UK nationals, were denied entry into Spain on November 14th when attempting to enter from Gibraltar, according to the Gibraltarian Government.

A week later, there were reports of long delays for vehicles crossing the border. Spanish authorities have stated that most were asked their reasons for travelling and denied entry because they couldn’t provide certain proof or documentation for their entry into Spain, such as hotel bookings or onward flights.

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Despite Albares' positivity in Brussels, few concrete details of the proposed deal have emerged, including what it will mean for the movement of UK nationals and other non-EU travellers at the Spain-Gibraltar border.

The Spanish Foreign Minister has spoken in generalities about a "shared prosperity zone" in order to avoid a hard border preventing the flow of people and goods, but revealed little else. Albares explained that “I think this deal… is better for everyone than the application of European legislation.”

The Spanish-Gibraltar border issue has been in limbo since the tiny territory was excluded from the UK-EU New Year's Eve 2020 deal, and it has long been hoped that a bespoke border arrangement could be made rather than a strict enforcement of the Schengen rules.

Thousands of people cross the border everyday to work in Gibraltar, and many local Gibraltarians (Llanitos, as they are known) have business or familial ties in Spain.

However, despite the want on both sides of the border for fluid movement, for many Gibraltarians the idea of Spanish police on Gibraltarian soil as a red line in negotiations that speaks to issues of sovereignty but also history, and recalls painful memories of when Franco closed the border for 13 years from 1969-1982.

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