Britons won’t need a visa for short stays in Europe – but Theresa May is angered by Gibraltar being branded a “colony” by the EU.
Downing Street has said it is “completely unacceptable” to describe Gibraltar as a “colony”, after the term was used in an EU document.
On Friday, EU ambassadors agreed to allow UK citizens visa-free travel to the continent – even after a no-deal Brexit.
But the proposal prompted a fresh row over “The Rock”.
Britons travelling to the bloc’s borderless Schengen area – made up of 26 European countries – after 29 March should be granted visa-free travel for a short stay, the European Council proposed.
This is defined as 90 days in any 180 days.
A document detailing the plan states: “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 European Parliament, which last month supported visa-free travel even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, is now expected to turn the decision into legislation.
European Commission officials have also previously backed the move.
But a dispute developed after Gibraltar was referred to as “a colony of the British Crown” in the same EU document.
Reportedly inserted at the request of Spain, which holds a long-standing sovereignty claim to the peninsula, a footnote states: “Gibraltar is a colony of the British Crown.
“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.”
Downing Street reacted angrily, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying it was “completely unacceptable to describe Gibraltar in this way”.
A UK government spokesperson said: “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.
“Gibraltar is not a colony and it is completely inappropriate to describe in this way.
“Gibraltar is a full part of the UK family and has a mature and modern constitutional relationship with the UK.
“This will not change due to our exit from the EU. All parties should respect the people of Gibraltar’s democratic wish to be British”.
The European Commission refused three times to state whether it views Gibraltar as a “colony”, when repeatedly asked by Sky News’ diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn.
Alexander Winterstein, the Commission’s deputy chief spokesperson, pointed to how the document was published by the European Council, made up of member states rather than Brussels officials.
“I have absolutely nothing to say to this,” he said.
Gibraltar has been a British territory for more than 300 years, with its citizens voting overwhelmingly, with 99% in favour, to remain under UK sovereignty at a 2002 referendum.
Spain has long maintained its own claim to Gibraltar, which sits off the country’s southern coast, and has consistently used the Brexit process to press the issue.
The status of Gibraltar proved a last-minute obstacle in Mrs May’s efforts to finalise her withdrawal agreement with the EU last year.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez vowed to “veto Brexit” if there were no changes to a draft deal.
The UK has previously stated its intent not to require EU citizens to obtain visas before travelling to Britain after Brexit.
The EU document states it will reciprocate for UK citizens, unless there is a move to introduce visa requirements for EU citizens in the UK.
Despite the agreement for visa-free travel for UK citizens making short stays in the EU, the bloc is still likely to charge a €7 (£6.15) fee every three years to UK citizens as part of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, due to come into force in 2021.