UK and Spain inch closer to deal on Gibraltar after Madrid demanded control of British airport

The UK and Spain are edging closer to a deal which could dictate the future of Gibraltar, sources have said, with the two nations' negotiations at a "tipping point".

Last year, Spain had insisted the UK cede control of the Ministry of Defence-owned Gibraltar International Airport, leading talks which had been rumbling on since Brexit to take a nosedive.

But negotiations resumed in Decmber 2023 - and have improved since, with Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron meeting Spain's foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, last week.

In the meeting, the UK and Spain are understood to have made some progress on muting British objections to Spain's proposal to control the airport itself.

David Cameron/Gibraltar/Jos00e9 Manuel Albares

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron met Spanish counterpart José Manuel Albares last week


EU sources said the negotiations were at a "tipping point", and that those involved hoped to seal a deal over the next week, while a Gibraltarian government source said negotiators were "optimistic about a solution to the issue", the Times reported - but UK sources have played down any reports a deal may be imminent.

Slovakian Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president heading up negotiations over Gibraltar, said last week: "We are entering into a sensitive phase of the negotiations."

Lord Cameron and Albares are slated to meet again this week - but the details of any upcoming deal are murky, especially regarding the airport and its key strategic status as an RAF base.

Spain claims the UK illegally seized the airport when it built a hospital in Gibraltar during an 1815 outbreak of yellow fever - and Albares continues to insist that Spanish control of Gibraltar International is key to any agreement.


UK/Gibraltar/EU flags in Gibraltar

Spain's insistence that the UK should give up Gibraltar's airport sent post-Brexit talks into a nosedive

But a senior UK official, the Times reported, said: "If a deal is imminent, I can assure you that there would not be a deal if it wasn’t to be in the best interests of Gibraltar."

Sir William Cash, European Scrutiny Committee chairman, said last month: "I was disturbed to hear... that what appears to have been agreed in principle between the UK and the EU with regard to Gibraltar would include EU Schengen border checks being performed in Gibraltar, Gibraltar aligning with EU rules to ensure a so-called level playing field, they say, and joint UK-Spanish management of Gibraltar's airport and, therefore, defence issues.

"If so, what the government has agreed... crosses its own negotiating red lines as first set out to my committee in 2021.

"It risks setting a dangerous precedent for the UK's overseas territories and crown dependencies, allowing a foreign power to set the rules of our engagement and diminishing the constitutionally entrusted role which the UK plays."

In December, Albares threatened the UK that if it did not submit to Spain's airport demands, it would face the "simple application of European legislation" - isolating Gibraltar outside of the Schengen Area, upon which so many Gibraltarians depend to cross into Spain and vice versa.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo has said an agreement "can create prosperity for Gibraltar and the [Spanish] area around us.

"We are committed to delivering a great agreement - but in a way that requires neither Spain nor Gibraltar to compromise on fundamentals," he added.

Officials in Spain have claimed the UK was "quibbling" over minutiae in the deal, and called its objections to Spanish control of airport a "penny-wise and pound-foolish" attitude.