Brexit divisions appear between the EU27
Spain threatens to veto deal over Gibraltar as infighting erupts ahead of Sunday’s summit
The Brexit circus has temporarily shifted from Westminster to the Continent as EU leaders voice their reservations about the deal before it is signed off at a special EU Council meeting later this week.
With Theresa May having secured the tentative backing of her cabinet, it is now the turn of the 27 other EU countries to respond to the Brexit agreement reached between UK and EU negotiators last week.
The biggest concern for the British prime minister will be Spain’s threat to withdraw support for the draft Brexit divorce deal if it does not get cast-iron assurances that its Gibraltar ‘veto’ will be respected during negotiations on the future trade deal between the UK and the EU.
The 585-page text includes a protocol about Gibraltar, “establishing a new framework of cooperation which may bring back the debate on the Rock’s sovereignty and has already provoked different reactions within the Spanish politicians”, says Forbes.
In what the Daily Express described as a “shock” intervention, Madrid has used ministers and diplomats to question the Rock’s status in any future trade partnership, “in an eleventh-hour bid to make changes to Theresa May’s controversial withdrawal agreement”.
Josep Borrell, Spain's foreign minister, warned that both sides should prepare for “last-minute surprises”, adding: “The future negotiations over Gibraltar are separate. Until that’s clear in the exit text and the political declaration over the future relationship, we won’t be able to agree to it.”
Spain has long resented Britain’s ownership of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory that is home to around 300,000 people, and has previously threatened to use Brexit to wrest concessions on the issue.
The ownership of Gibraltar is also a big issue for the Spanish public, “and successive governments have benefited politically by grandstanding on the issue”, says The Independent.
The withdrawal agreement has to be approved by a qualified majority voting at the European Council, “meaning that if other countries add their voices of dissent to Spain’s, the agreement could be in trouble”, says the news site.
Ramping up political pressure in Spain, the conservative Popular Party - which was ousted from power earlier this year following a vote of no confidence against former prime minister Mariano Rajoy - has described the agreement as “shameful” and an “absolute failure” when it comes to Gibraltar.
The party has accused the socialist-led government of Pedro Sanchez of renouncing the Rock’s co-sovereignty, not least because it has not achieved the aspiration of joint use of Gibraltar airport, which was built on the isthmus that connects Gibraltar with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.
An EU diplomat told Reuters the issue could affect the outcome of Sunday’s summit of all EU leaders aimed at rubber-stamping the Brexit deal. Other outstanding points are fishing and a limit on any extension of a post-Brexit transition phase.
The Daily Telegraph says EU governments “remain divided over what conditions will be imposed on any British requests to extend the Brexit transition period”, with countries including France and Spain reportedly harbouring concerns about the option of lengthening the extension period beyond the end of 2020.