Despite trying to take a hardball approach, the Spanish government is likely to agree a bilateral deal with the UK over Gibraltar before October and does not plan to hold Brexit negotiations “hostage” over the territorial dispute.
Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has said that Madrid wants to sign a pact with the UK ensuring Gibraltar is fully covered when we leave the EU. In addition, he promised its 30,000 inhabitants Spain will not turn Brexit into a “hostage-type situation” for them.
— HM Govt of Gibraltar (@GibraltarGov) March 28, 2018
Spain wants joint management of Gibraltar’s airport, which is located on a disputed strip of land connecting Gibraltar to the Spanish mainland.
Mr Dastis said that while Spain “cannot accept” British jurisdiction over the land, it wanted to use the airport “to the benefit of the population of Gibraltar”.
Asked what joint management would mean, he said: “We will have to work out what the exact terms will be.
“We have tried twice. Once it was rejected by the UK, the second time it was rejected by us – maybe third time lucky?”
Whilst the UK has confirmed that “informal” talks are going on about Gibraltar’s post-Brexit future with Spain, British officials have feared Madrid will attempt to hold London to ransom at the last minute to try and secure concessions on sovereignty.
Nevertheless, the news is slightly embarrassing for Spanish ministers, who have spent months employing tougher language after securing a veto over a transition period applying to Gibraltar.
Despite its small size, Gibraltar is strategically important, standing only 12 miles from the north coast of Africa. It has a UK military base, including a port and airstrip.
Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht but Spain has continued to press its claim – which is rejected by both the UK and Gibraltar itself.
Gibraltarians rejected by 99% to 1% the idea of the UK sharing sovereignty with Spain in a vote in 2002 and in a previous referendum in 1967.