Spain has said that it will vote against a deal agreed between London and Brussels for Britain’s departure from the bloc, or Brexit, if it does not guarantee Madrid’s veto over Gibraltar’s future status.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May is due to sign a treaty with EU leaders to leave the bloc on Sunday, but the warning over the contested British territory on Spain’s southern tip may add another complication.
Speaking in a business conference in Madrid on Tuesday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “As a country, we can’t conceive that what will happen with the future of Gibraltar will depend on a negotiation between Britain and the European Union.”
He added: “As a consequence, today, I regret to say that a pro-European government like Spain’s would vote no to Brexit unless there are changes.”
According to EU rules, the withdrawal treaty is adopted by a qualified majority and not unanimity. So a single state like Spain cannot block it. The EU’s executive said it was aware of Spain’s concerns and it expected the issue to be resolved.
A small peninsula on Spain’s southern coast and a British territory since 1713, Gibraltar is a major point of contention in British-Spanish relations. Spain has long claimed sovereignty over it.
Gibraltar is due to leave the European Union along with the UK in March, although 96 percent of its population voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the bloc.
According to Article 184 of the draft Brexit deal, “the EU and the United Kingdom shall make every effort, in good faith and with full respect for their respective legal systems, to adopt the measures necessary to negotiate rapidly the agreements governing their future relationship.”
These agreements will be negotiated between Brexit day on March 29, 2019, and December 2020 – extendable once – and will enter into force at the end of the period.
But Spain wants to retain what it sees as its right to negotiate the future on Gibraltar with the UK on a bilateral basis, giving it an effective veto.
Although the legal service of the EU Council has tried to reassure Spain that the text does not preclude this, Madrid is seeking further clarification.
Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell had already warned on Monday after a meeting of EU ministers that the draft deal does not spell out how Gibraltar should be handled.
“Until it is clear … we will not be able to give our agreement,” he said.
In Brussels, EU spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said the bloc agreed last year that “after the UK leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Diplomats in Brussels expected the issue to be resolved by adding more such language in the withdrawal agreement and the declaration on post-Brexit ties between the EU and Britain by Sunday, when they are due to be presented to EU leaders for approval.