Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, insisted yesterday that Madrid continued to seek a constructive agreement to enable enhanced use of Gibraltar’s airport, despite this being one of the issues threatening to stall negotiations over the Rock’s post-Brexit future.
Speaking at a breakfast forum in Seville, Mr Dastis sidestepped recent reports that the talks had broken down over disagreements on the airport.
“We’re approaching these negotiations with a constructive spirit and with a will to reach agreement,” he reportedly said.
“Shutting out that agreement would lead nowhere.”
Last weekend Spanish newspaper El Pais, citing anonymous sources, said Spain had asked for Spanish law enforcement officers to conduct Schengen controls inside Gibraltar’s terminal.
But both the Gibraltar and UK governments have rejected this and made clear that Spanish police presence in Gibraltar is a red line that cannot be crossed.
They point instead to the formula set out in the 2006 Cordoba agreement, which envisaged Spain constructing its own access to Gibraltar’s airport terminal.
Yesterday Mr Dastis said Spain still wanted to reach an agreement on the airport “for the benefit of the entire zone”, but that it could not accept a deal that recognised Gibraltar’s control over the isthmus.
He cautioned though that without agreement, Gibraltar’s airport would be left out of the EU single skies area and the rights and advantages this offered.
Gibraltar’s Conservative MEP Ashley Fox also waded into the airport debate yesterday, backing the UK and Gibraltar’s position on sovereignty but voicing optimism too that an agreement could be reached.
“The UK has been abundantly clear that Gibraltar’s sovereignty is not up for negotiation in the Brexit talks,” Mr Fox tweeted.
“Allowing Spanish law enforcement agencies to exercise control on British territory crosses that red line as that would be tantamount to a concession on sovereignty.”
“I remain optimistic that if these negotiations are approached in good faith an agreement can be reached that will respect Gibraltar’s place in the British family and be mutually beneficial for both sides.”
In his intervention in Seville, Mr Dastis once again said Spain was not renouncing its aspiration to regain Gibraltar’s sovereignty, but that its focus within the context of Brexit was on the well-being of citizens in the area and in particular on cross-border workers.
He said agreements on citizens’ rights and cross-border workers reached between the UK and the EU would apply irrespective of any deal or otherwise on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.
He signalled too that the central Spanish Government is working on an inter-ministerial plan to “offer solutions” to promote the development of the Campo de Gibraltar, where unemployment runs at 40%.
“We’re confident we will soon announce a battery of measures to ease the situation, because they are very necessary and we are conscious of that,” he said.