Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan may hit a snag after Madrid threatened to vote it down over the thorny issue of Gibraltar, demanding that last-minute changes be made to the text ahead this week’s EU summit.
"As of today, if there are no changes with respect to Gibraltar, Spain will vote no to the agreement on Brexit," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
Earlier, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said that his government would not back the proposals at the European Council unless assured the agreement would not apply to Gibraltar.
"The negotiations between Britain and the EU have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar, the negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions," Borrell said on Monday morning in Brussels.
According to a special clause that Spain had included in the European Council’s Brexit guidelines last year says that “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”.
Britain said it would not exempt Gibraltar or any other British territory from the agreement in what may put the two countries on a collision course ahead of the weekend summit.
Because the agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU has to be approved by a qualified majority voting at the European Council this weekend, any other EU country adding their voices to Spain’s could jeopardise the entire deal.
A Downing Street spokesperson, meanwhile, has ruled out any concessions on Britain’s part saying that “The draft withdrawal agreement agreed last week covers Gibraltar”.
“The prime minister has been clear that we will not exclude Gibraltar or the other overseas territories or the crown dependencies from our negotiations on the future relationship. We will get a deal that works for the whole UK family,” he added.
All recent polls show that the inhabitants of Gibraltar overwhelmingly want to keep their status as a British overseas territory and do not want to be a part of Spain.
Just ahead of the Sunday summit, the UK and Gibraltar signed the Armed Forces (Gibraltar) Act with Britain’s Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster underscoring Gibraltar’s ‘vital importance to the UK Armed Forces and our allies’.
“Whilst our relationship with the EU is changing, our commitment to European prosperity and security remains steadfast and our duty to support Gibraltar, its people and its economy is resolute,” he added.
Mark Lancaster also met with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo to discuss the strategic importance of Gibraltar to Britain’s defence.