Spain to vote against Theresa May's Brexit deal over Gibraltar

Final draft agreed by European Commission does not include concessions demanded by Spain

Jon Stone
Brussels
Thursday 22 November 2018 13:55
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Theresa May makes statement on Brexit from Downing Street

Spain will vote against the current draft of the Brexit deal struck between Theresa May and Brussels because of concerns about the way it treats Gibraltar, diplomatic sources say.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez earlier this week threatened to reject the plan if no concessions were made – which have yet to materialise in the latest “final” version to surface.

Mr Sanchez said his government “cannot accept” the Iberian territory’s future being determined by negotiations at the EU level.

The Spanish government wants the withdrawal agreement to make clear that the deal does not apply to the British overseas territory, but the UK says it does.

Speaking on Thursday a spokesperson for the European Commission said “work is continuing” to try to bring Spain onside.

Addressing the media on the steps of Downing Street, Theresa May appeared to double down, saying: “I spoke to the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and I am confident that on Sunday we’ll be able to agree a deal that delivers for the whole UK family including Gibraltar.”

Spain takes issue with a clause added to the withdrawal agreement at the last minute – article 184. The article says the EU and the UK will seek to “negotiate rapidly the agreements governing their future relationship” before the end of the transition.

But Spain wants an addition to the text specifying that Gibraltar is excluded from those talks, and that it is for Spain and Britain to negotiate the future of the territory bilaterally.

Spain alone cannot veto the withdrawal agreement, which only has to be passed by a “qualified majority” vote of EU member states at the European Council.

Other countries have, however, raised different concerns with the document, such as how it treats their fishings fleets. States such as France, Denmark and the Netherlands are understood to be upset that the UK will be given access to the EU customs territory without a quid pro quo guaranteeing their fishing rights in British waters.

If these countries teamed up with Spain they could potentially have the numbers to sink the withdrawal agreement. Spain can also veto any future relationship trade deal with the UK, meaning it could cause trouble down the road if its demands are not met now.

The UK has held Gibraltar since 1704 and it was formally ceded as territory in a treaty in 1713. It is a self-governing British overseas territory.

The Gibraltar issue is controversial with the Spanish public, with successive governments benefiting politically by grandstanding on the matter. It became official policy of the Spanish government to regain control of the rock during the dictatorship of General Franco, and it has been so ever since.

Polls and referendums have repeatedly shown Gibraltans overwhelmingly favour staying tied to Britain, however.

The upsurge in interest in the Gibraltar issue could be down to the fact that the Spanish region of Andalusia has local elections scheduled for 2 December – just a week after the final Brexit summit.

Andalusia borders Gibraltar, and includes the county of Camp de Gibraltar – or “countryside of Gibraltar”. Around 10,000 Spanish people cross the border into the British overseas territory every day to work, so their livelihoods are connected to Brexit talks.

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