Brussels is putting pressure on the UK to resolve a long running dispute with Spain over the territory of Gibraltar before a deal on a post-Brexit transition period can be discussed.
While Gibraltar has been in British hands since 1713, Spain maintains a claim over the 2.6 square miles (6.7 square kilometers) of land.
A bilateral agreement is needed between London and Madrid to ensure that Gibraltar is incorporated into a future transition agreement, according to the European commission’s four-page mandate on the second phase of Brexit negotiations due out today.
So-called territories under British protection — which includes Gibraltar — will leave the EU alongside the UK in March 2019.
Therefore, Gibraltar’s status needs to be settled with Madrid’s approval as part of the transition talks, the Financial Times reported this morning.
Last week, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said that his government would need to give its explicit consent to any transitional deal affecting Gibraltar.
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Jorge Toledo, Spain’s minister for EU affairs, added that “unless the UK and Spain speak bilaterally, on March 30 2019 nothing will apply [to Gibraltar] — no transition period, nothing”.
On Monday, British prime minister Theresa May was asked by MPs in the Commons to guarantee that the transition agreements would cover Gibraltar.
She responded that “the Rock” — as the territory is known — will not be left out.
May wants an agreement on the two-year transition — or implementation — period by March 2018 so talks can move on to the long-term future trade agreement.
However, uncertainty surrounding Gibraltar’s status could upset May’s schedule.
Madrid has already threatened to veto any UK-EU deal on aviation rights after Brexit over the disputed location of the airport, which Madrid argues is illegally built on Spanish land.
The UK has not yet made clear whether or not it will stay in Europe’s Common Aviation Area, allowing the country to retain full access to air travel rights after it leaves the bloc.