Spain would seek to block post-Brexit access for the UK to the EU’s single aviation market unless Gibraltar was excluded from any agreement, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Britain is analysing options to ensure continued air links to the EU after it withdraws from the bloc.
These include attempting to retain membership of the European Common Aviation Area, which would mean it keeps full access, or seeking a bilateral “open skies” agreement with the EU, which is likely to have more restrictive terms.
Both deals would, however, require unanimous support from all EU member states.
According to the FT, Spain is not prepared to accept a deal in which Gibraltar airport is given the same rights as UK mainland airports.
“Any EU agreement with the UK on aviation cannot apply to the airport of Gibraltar,” one Spanish diplomat told the newspaper.
“A deal that is applicable to the airport of Gibraltar would imply recognition of the legal right of the UK to the territory.”
The Spanish position echoes Madrid’s stance on EU aviation packages in recent years.
Madrid argues that Gibraltar airport is situated on a disputed isthmus and must be left out of the EU’s aviation agreements, despite Spain’s commitment under the 2006 Cordoba agreement to include the Rock.
Britain argues that there is no legal basis for excluding Gibraltar from EU aviation legislation.The UK is adamant that the Rock must be included, a position that was accepted by Spain’s previous PSOE administration under the trilateral process.
The European Commission and other EU members have repeatedly declined to get directly involved in the matter, insisting it is a bilateral issue between two member states.
As a result of the impasse, important EU aviation has remained stalled, in some cases for years.
But with Britain sat to start negotiation to leave the EU, there is mounting pressure to push ahead with the stalled aviation packages.
Likewise there is concern that Spain will seek to have Gibraltar left out of any post-Brexit aviation deal agreed between the UK and the EU.
The issue was raised by Dr Joseph Garcia, the deputy Chief Minister, during a recent hearing of the House of Common’s select committee analysing Brexit issues.
“I think it’s important going forward that the UK maintains its red lines,” Dr Garcia told MPs.
“Gibraltar airport should be included in all EU civil aviation legislation for as long as we are in the European Union.”
Not only that, the UK must ensure “…that our airport is included in future aviation agreements with the EU and with third countries.”
“Otherwise we may find ourselves in a position where Spain again tries to object and to undermine the inclusion of Gibraltar airport in civil aviation legislation.”
Dr Garcia told MPs that this issue had been raised in discussions between the Gibraltar
Government and the British Government and “it is well understood”.
Photo by DM Parody.