Gibraltar’s MEP welcomes airport talks with Spain, but UK must “get on with” a deal on the Rock

Gibraltar’s member of the European parliament hopes the Spanish foreign minister’s recent comments on reaching an agreement on Gibraltar airport means the Madrid government is intending to fulfil the 2006 Cordoba Agreement and ensure there is a Schengen exit into Spain.

But Clare Moody warned that the UK government needed to “get on with it” if a deal between the UK and Spain was to be signed off in time for the whole Brexit deal with the EU to be ratified by member states.

Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said in an interview last week that “constructive conversations” with the UK were ongoing, that the Madrid government was “definitely working towards an agreement by October, “if possible by the summer”, and that he hoped “we will see a position from the British side that works towards that end”.

Speaking to Unite Brexit Check ahead of this week’s Unite’s Brexit conference on the Rock, the MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar said the UK’s failure to get agreement on the British overseas territory in time for the March transition period statement was lamentable.

“It is a disgrace that the UK government failed to clarify Gibraltar’s position as part of the March transition deal. It’s good to hear that talks are progressing but May and her ministers really need to get on with this.”

But Moody added it was vital that the Gibraltar government had a seat at the table at those talks.

“As chief minister Fabian Picardo has said, there cannot be a return to a bilateral process of talks between the UK and Spain about Gibraltar.”

She also called on the UK government to make clear its position on the Spanish foreign minister’s comments that Spain wanted to address “some of the irritants that have plagued our relationship in the last few years”, including the transparency of Gibraltar’s tax systems and issues around border controls.

But Moody also wanted to know what the UK’s negotiating position is regarding Gibraltar airport.

“The infrastructure is already there for the Spanish side of the airport to be developed. Developing their side, as designed in the 2006 Cordoba Agreement would be fantastic for the economies both of Gibraltar and of the part of Andalucia that borders the Rock.

“The important thing is that we get an agreement on the airport that works for everyone. Having a northern exit from the airport into Spain, inside the Schengen area, could be made to work for all.”

However, some observers have suggested that expecting the Spanish government to look after the interests of Gibraltar or of Andalucia is like asking a Tory government to look after the interests of the North East of England.

“Certainly Andalucia is heavily dependent on Gibraltar for employment and the region’s persistently high unemployment rates should be seen as a priority for the government in Madrid,” says Moody. “That is the way I hope Spanish ministers now see Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with Spain – as an opportunity to invest in and develop that part of the region.”

Gibraltar is the second largest employer in the Campo de Gibraltar – the seven Andalucian municipalities that border it. Some 13,000 non-resident workers cross the border every day and are pivotal to the health and care sectors, as well as construction and many others.

Unite has called for the preservation of the Rock’s “special status” within the EU, irrespective of Brexit, including retaining freedom of movement, to ensure that its members, and all those who live or work in Gibraltar and depend on its economy, will not be used as bargaining chips during the exit negotiations or further down the line.

And for all the talk of an agreement on Gibraltar by October, fresh doubts have already been thrown on Spain’s preparedness not to take a hard line in its veto over the post-Brexit relationship between the EU and Gibraltar.

The country’s hopes to recover the sovereignty of the Rock were a “fundamental objective” of its foreign policy, the Spanish government said in its annual budget statement last week.

Setting out specific goals on Gibraltar within the context of Brexit, the statement said it would “defend Spanish interests” during the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the Spanish ministry for foreign affairs was planning some 35 reports providing “information, analysis and proposals” in support of these.

Alfonso Dastis also admitted that in terms of the talks with the UK, Spain was “definitely determined to defend our position” so he could “not exclude anything”, suggesting, perhaps, that an agreement could not be guaranteed.

Unite’s Brexit and Gibraltar conference takes place on 10 April. Speakers include Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo, Clare Moody MEP and Unite’s international director Simon Dubbins.