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Tue, 31 March 2020

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Theresa May hits back at EU as row erupts over Gibraltar 'colony' claim

Theresa May hits back at EU as row erupts over Gibraltar 'colony' claim
2 min read

Downing Street has criticised European Union officials for referring to Gibraltar as a "colony" in new documents outlining visa-free travel arrangements after Brexit.

Under new rules, British nationals will be able to travel to EU countries without a visa after the UK quits the bloc on 29 March, regardless of whether a withdrawal agreement has been reached.

The decision will allow visitors to stay for up to 90 days and will also include Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are out of the EU but in the borderless "Schengen" zone.

However the move was overshadowed by part of the European Council agreement which referred to Gibraltar as "a colony of the British Crown".

A footnote which was reportedly requested by Spanish officials states: "There is a controversy between Spain and the United Kingdom concerning the sovereignty over Gibraltar, a territory for which a solution has to be reached in light of the relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly of the United Nations."

Hitting back, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "It is completely unacceptable to describe Gibraltar in this way. Gibraltar is a full part of the UK family. This will not change due to our exit from the EU."

A government spokesperson added: "The EU's provisions for visa-free travel into and out of the Schengen area cover Gibraltar, and mean that in any scenario, British nationals from Gibraltar will be able to travel for short stays in and out of Spain and other countries in the Schengen area," they said.

“Gibraltar is not a colony and it is completely inappropriate to describe in this way.”

A European Parliament committee has backed the move to visa-free travel, which is expected to be formally signed off by EU ambassadors later today.

A document on the proposal reads: "Considering the geographical proximity, the link between economies, the level of trade and the extent of short-term movements of persons between the UK and the Union for business, leisure or other purposes, visa-free travel should facilitate tourism and economic activity, thereby bringing benefits to the Union."

The move comes ahead of Theresa May's last ditch effort to win changes to her withdrawal agreement from Brussels in an effort to push it through the Commons.

MPs last week signalled that the controversial Irish backstop - which would keep an open border on the island through a customs union until a permanent solution is found - needed to be axed for the Government to have a hope of it being passed.

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