European Union negotiators meet on Friday (23 November) to try to clear the last Brexit hurdle before a Sunday summit is due to endorse the withdrawal deal and future ties agreement, but Spain’s eleventh-hour objections over Gibraltar mean the final text could not be ready until the last minute.
Four months before Britain leaves the EU, the legal divorce treaty and an accompanying political declaration on the two sides’ future ties are ready to be rubber-stamped by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the 27 union states staying on together after Brexit.
Spain has asked for changes to the withdrawal treaty and the declaration on a new EU-UK relationship to make clear any decisions about the disputed British overseas territory of Gibraltar would only be taken in direct talks with Madrid.
Spain wants to negotiate directly with London on all issues related to Gibraltar, which was ceded to the British crown in a peace treaty in 1713.
This had been provided for, initially, in a clause to the draft withdrawal agreement that effectively gave Madrid a veto on any Gibraltar-related agreement between the bloc and the UK.
The clause has, however, disappeared from the final draft.
According to the Spanish daily El País, the controversial text refers to the future relationship that Brussels and London will have to agree upon once the transition period ends and which must be negotiated “with full respect for the respective legal orders”.
Spain accuses the UK of introducing a clause into the withdrawal agreement that would make Gibraltar part of future trade deal with Brussels, without requiring the prior agreement of Spain. Spain rejects that it is part of the United Kingdom.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Thursday that Spain will veto the draft deal on Britain’s exit if no changes are made.
“After my conversation with Theresa May, our positions remain far away. My government will always defend the interests of Spain. If there are no changes, we will veto Brexit,” Sánchez said in a tweet.
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