The UK Government said it is willing to explore “practical and technical options” to allow flights between Gibraltar and the EU, but only if Gibraltar is content and sovereignty is not compromised.
The position was set out by the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Leo Docherty, in response to a question in the House of Commons this week.
The development came as European Commission executive vice president Maros Sefcovic, who is leading the negotiation for the EU, said he was confident negotiators could achieve “quite big progress” and that the Commission would do its “utmost” to secure a deal, even while cautioning the “final push” would be “the most difficult”.
The UK – with Gibraltar – and the EU are due to meet in London next week for the 14th formal round of negotiation for a treaty on the Rock’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc.
The meeting will take place a week after the UK, Gibraltar and Spain held a technical meeting in Malaga ahead of the formal round.
Foreign Secretary David Cameron and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Manuel Albares, have also discussed the Gibraltar treaty in recent days.
In Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Sefcovic signalled tempered optimism as the negotiation enters its final stages.
“We are working very closely with our UK partners and of course, which is absolutely natural, we are cooperating in every aspect of these negotiations with Spain, with our member State, and I think that we achieve quite big progress in a lot of areas,” Mr Sefcovic told reporters at the Commission’s daily midday press briefing on Wednesday.
“And I think that what we need to achieve is what I would describe the final push.”
“But being in many negotiations of these kinds, the last mile is always the most difficult one.”
“So I would not predict the final outcome.”
“I can only tell you that there is enormous interest from the sides of the European Commission to be as helpful as possible.”
“And I know that if you can achieve the solution for Gibraltar, that it would be good news for the people living in Gibraltar, for the people of Spain and United Kingdom, and we as the European Commission will do our utmost to help this process.”
The comments in London and Brussels came amid wide speculation that the future use of Gibraltar’s airport is one of the final stumbling blocks to reaching agreement.
Spain has said it wants “joint use” of the airport, something rejected by Gibraltar and the UK, which prefer the phrase “enhanced use” and point out too that the airport was not included in the framework agreement that forms the basis for the negotiation.
Mr Docherty’s response in the Commons indicates that the issue is a live one and that all sides are seeking a solution that will unlock the potential for greater use of the airport while respecting each side’s red lines on sovereignty.
“The Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Spanish Foreign Minister and underlined the UK Government’s commitment to concluding a UK-EU Gibraltar treaty,” Mr Docherty said.
“Throughout negotiations, working side-by-side with the Government of Gibraltar, we have presented proposals that maintain the careful balance of the December 2020 Political Framework, agreed between the UK, with Gibraltar, and Spain.”
“We are prepared to explore practical and technical options to facilitate flights between Gibraltar and the EU.”
“The UK will only agree to terms that the Government of Gibraltar are content with and will not agree to anything that compromises sovereignty.”