The European Parliament on Thursday approved a law allowing Britons visa-free travel to the bloc even in the event of a “no deal” Brexit, despite outrage in some quarters over the status of Gibraltar.
Britain is due to leave the European Union, perhaps as early as next week, but the law will allow 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.
The bill passed by EU lawmakers triggered a bitter row in Brussels, after member states — at Spain’s urging — referred to in a footnote of the draft to Gibraltar as a “colony of the British crown”.
The United Nations does legally list Gibraltar as a “non-self-governing territory”, 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.
“If the EU plans to continually take Spain’s side on Gibraltar, against the will of the people of the Rock, then it could poison the future trade talks before they have even begun,” said Daniel Dalton, a British Conservative MEP.
“It would also fatally undermine Europe’s standing as a union which defends democracy and human rights across the world,” he added.
Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a leading Spanish MEP, 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,” the MEP added.
The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has denounced the text as “disgraceful”, noting the law would not even be needed if Britain approves a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
“In this case it is obvious that extreme pressure exerted by Spain and the bullying tactics of Spanish MEPs, on purely nationalistic grounds,” he complained.
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.