British-Moroccan undersea tunnel would connect Africa to Europe

Morocco and the UK see the Strait of Gibraltar, which is under British sovereignty, becoming the hub for a 28 km-tunnel that connects the two countries.
Saturday 09/01/2021
Moroccan flags flutter near container cranes at the new terminals of the Tanger Med port in the northern city of Tangiers on the Strait of Gibraltar. (AFP)
Moroccan flags flutter near container cranes at the new terminals of the Tanger Med port in the northern city of Tangiers on the Strait of Gibraltar. (AFP)

RABAT--The British government led by Boris Johnson is studying the completion of an undersea tunnel linking Gibraltar to Tangiers, in partnership with the Moroccan government.

London has seriously embarked on studying the project that will link Europe to Africa, as trade relations with Morocco are developed.

In addition to the partnership agreement signed in 2020 after Britain’s exit from the European Union, Morocco and the UK see the Strait of Gibraltar, which is under British sovereignty, becoming the hub for a 28 km-tunnel that connects the two countries.

The former British ambassador to Rabat, Thomas Riley, said in an interview with the newspaper “Espanol” last August, that there are many opportunities for developing ties between Morocco and Gibraltar, in many areas, that should be explored.

The British-Moroccan project would  replace the Spanish-Moroccan project, which has been discussed for more than forty years without any tangible results.  A previous Spanish experimental phase began with the digging of a 600 metre-underground crossing in the city of Cadiz, south of Andalusia, and just over 200 metres into Morocco. It was ended two years later due to floods and maintenance problems.

After Brexit, the British will begin taking over the project and start its development.

The line will connect Europe and Africa via the cities closest to the Rock of Gibraltar.

The tunnel will be built near the port of Tangiers in the Mediterranean, which is the main  economic artery in the Mediterranean. With this project in mind, Boris Johnson intends to visit Rabat soon to extend the continental connection project via Gibraltar.

The project could be a suspended bridge on fixed pillars, a suspended bridge on floating pillars or a submerged and supported tunnel on the seabed similar to the tunnel linking Britain and France, depending on current technologies.

At the present time, the two parties do not formally confirm they have a realistic plan for the project, but the intention to complete that tunnel or bridge between Morocco and Gibraltar has been in negotiations since the signing of agreements between the two countries in October 2019.

The first strategic dialogue between the United Kingdom and Morocco took place on July 2018 in London, and was hosted by then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and attended by Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita. It aimed to strengthen cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and security fields.

British officials foresee special relations between Morocco and the United Kingdom if the European Union ratifies the agreements between Spain and the United Kingdom regarding the future of Gibraltar within the Schengen area. They believe the tunnel could mean for the United Kingdom keeping an open gateway with Europe in direct competition within Algeciras.

Sabri al-Haw, an expert in international law, sees Morocco as a good alternative for Britain to compensate for agricultural products it used to import from Spain, Portugal and Italy, after its exit from the European Union.

However, Spain does not hide its concern about the Moroccan-British rapprochement in the event of the implementation of the continental link project between Gibraltar and Morocco.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Haw emphasized that close cooperation with Britain constitutes an economic and political opportunity for Morocco, which will work on selling its agricultural products and exporting mineral raw materials, provided that this is done within the framework of strategic agreements where the political return would be to promote Moroccan territorial integrity.

On the commercial level, Morocco and the United Kingdom agreed in 2019 to maintain Moroccan-European trade ties after Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Besides the trade agreement, the two countries have concluded a number of deals, including a mutual agreement for the export of products from the Moroccan Sahara – including fish and phosphates – to the British market.

Haw believes that mega projects such as the continental link between Morocco and Gibraltar would be among the distinct features of the policies of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, and will make Morocco the object of intense competition between Spain and Britain.

Morocco will soon start selling clean energy to Britain and will launch air and sea routes to Gibraltar to facilitate the travel of Moroccans to the UK-British- controlled strait.