Spain demands jurisdiction over Gibraltar airport

Spain demands jurisdiction over Gibraltar airport as part of post-Brexit border settlement – with locals saying they face ‘catastrophe’ while Madrid holds a gun to their head

  • Talks have been ongoing over the status of the overseas territory since Brexit
  • They have now stalled over the issue of the airport, which is on an RAF base 

Spain has demanded jurisdiction over Gibraltar airport as part of a post-Brexit border settlement, angering locals who say they are facing a ‘catastrophe’.

Talks have been ongoing over the status of the overseas territory – which has a land border with Spain – since Britain left the EU, but have stalled over the airport issue.

British diplomats have accused the Spanish government of making unacceptable demands that would threaten the sovereignty of British Overseas Territory, with Downing Street today dismissing Spain’s demand.

‘The Spanish have asked for a regulatory framework over the management of the airport which implies Spanish jurisdiction, which is not something that Gibraltar can tolerate,’ Vice-Admiral Sir David Steel, the governor of Gibraltar, told The Times. 

Steel also said there were tensions over the role of the Spanish police.

Spain has demanded jurisdiction over Gibraltar airport (pictured, file photo) as part of a post-Brexit border settlement, angering locals who say they face a ‘catastrophe’

‘We have reached a formula which would mean Frontex (the EU border agency) would manage the border on behalf of the EU, overseen by Spanish officials,’ Mr Steel said, asking: ‘What does ‘overseen’ look like?

READ MORE: No10 says UK will NOT bow to Spanish demand for control of Gibraltar airport in post-Brexit wrangling 

‘We must ensure that it doesn’t stretch into sovereignty that it does not exceed what we can accept in terms of jurisdiction and control.’

On the other side, Spain has accused Britain of ‘quibbling’ over small details, saying the UK’s approach has been ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’.

As the dispute drags on, there are fears the talks between Madrid and London could break down entirely after the Spanish general election next month.

Polls in Spain suggest that it is likely the country will see a return of a more conservative government that is against making a compromise with Britain.

In theory, Gibraltar – home to more than 32,000 people – is currently outside the EU’s customs union and not under free movement rules.

However, Madrid has granted a temporary exemption for workers and tourists to avoid disruption on the narrow peninsula that jets off Spain’s southern coast – leaving the overseas territory in a state of limbo since Brexit.

The temporary agreement could be rescinded by Spain at any time, and so the negotiations are working towards agreeing common travel between Gibraltar and the EU’s Schengen zone, which would remove most border controls.

The airport sits on an RAF base, and also on the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Those passing across the Spanish border must travel down Winston Churchill Avenue – a road that cuts through the airport’s single runway.

Hopes were growing earlier this year that a deal was close to being made.

However, in addition to the disputes over the police and the airport, negotiations have also been complicated by the snap general elections in Spain set for July 23.

Currently, Spain’s conservative People’s Party leads over the left-wing ruling coalition, although that lead has narrowed.

A survey carried out between June 16 and 23 by El Mundo newspaper showed the PP would get 140 seats in the 350-member lower house, down from 141 a week earlier. 

Talks have been ongoing over the status of the overseas territory – which has a land border with Spain (pictured) – since Britain left the EU, but have stalled over the airport issue

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) would get 102 seats and Sumar, the far-left grouping replacing Podemos, would get 35 seats up from 30 a week earlier, pollster Sigma-Dos said.

The poll, commissioned by El Mundo newspaper, showed far-right party Vox, the PP’s likeliest post-election ally, would get 35 seats, down from 36 a week earlier, Sigma-Dos said. A likely coalition between Vox and PP would be one seat short of the 176 outright majority. Prior polls gave the two parties an outright majority.

Spain’s return to a right wing government could kill off any hopes of an agreement being reached, especially one that includes Vox.

The party has previously called on the land border between Spain and Gibraltar to be closed in order to ‘suffocate’ the territory and for Madrid to regain control over it.

A Spanish official has said the deal would be ‘as good as dead’ should Vox enter a power sharing agreement with PP.

Speaking to The Times, Steel lamented that Britain and Spain currently have – for the first time since 1713 – the best chance of ending the ‘anxiety’ between the two countries over the often contentious issue of Gibraltar.

With 90 percent of the agreement settled, he expressed his hope that officials could get the final 10 percent over the line, according to The Times.

Freedom of movement is essential to the people living on the peninsula.

The territory is dependent on the 15,000 Spanish workers who cross the border every day, providing vital services such as healthcare.

A view from the top of the rock of Gibraltar, with the airport and Spanish border below (left)

Speaking to The Times, John Isola – head of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, said it would be a ‘catastrophe’ for Gibraltar if no deal is struck.

On Tuesday, the British government dismissed Spain’s demand to take effective control of the airport.

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman warned the UK would not allow anything that ‘compromised sovereignty’ amid wrangling over post-Brexit arrangements.

‘We remain a steadfast supporter of Gibraltar and we are not going to do anything to compromise sovereignty,’ they said.

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