The European Union issued Prime Minister Theresa May a final warning on the progress of Brexit talks yesterday, insisting it was “the last call to put cards on the table” and highlighting unresolved questions including the Northern Ireland border and Gibraltar’s inclusion in the deal.
After discussing Brexit at the European Council meeting in Brussels, EU leaders called on Mrs May to offer ways to overcome “huge” differences and prevent Britain from crashing out of the bloc without a deal.
The summit’s conclusions underlined the leaders’ concerns “that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland” but again held out the possibility of flexibility if “the UK positions were to evolve”
The EU27 welcomed progress on the legal text of the withdrawal agreement but noted that “important aspects still need to be agreed” including the territorial application of the deal “notably as regards Gibraltar” – a provision thought to have been inserted at the insistence of Spain.
The UK and Gibraltar governments both played down the significance of the reference to Gibraltar, insisting on their established position that the Rock is covered by the withdrawal agreement.
But they stressed too their willingness to continue constructive dialogue with Spain to mitigate the practical impact of Brexit on Gibraltar and neighbouring Spanish communities.
“The EU’s Article 50 Council Conclusions, as well as its negotiating guidelines, are a matter for the EU and the other member states, but the territorial scope of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, including the implementation period, explicitly covers Gibraltar,” a spokesman for the UK Government told the Chronicle.
“That is both right and consistent with our position that we are negotiating on behalf of the whole UK family.”
“We want a deal which works for all, including Gibraltar.”
“Naturally, UK officials continue to engage with the Government of Gibraltar and our European partners, including Spain, to address the practical implications arising from our EU exit.”
“We are confident all sides are committed to finding a mutually agreeable resolution benefitting everyone living and working in the region.”
The Government of Gibraltar echoed that message and said the explicit reference to Gibraltar in the summit conclusions was simply a restatement of the established negotiating position of the EU27, which seeks to give Spain a veto over Gibraltar’s inclusion within the deal’s scope.
“We will continue to work closely with the United Kingdom in the process of its on-going Article 50 negotiation, in which we are fully involved and which the UK has repeatedly stated includes Gibraltar,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.
“This restatement of their established position by the EU changes nothing in that respect.”
“We have no doubt that with goodwill and through dialogue with our European partners we can reach understandings and advance cooperation so that the language of vetoes can become a thing of the past.”
“In that way, we are sure we will find mutually agreeable resolutions which benefit everyone living and working in and around Gibraltar.”
Even Spain’s new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared to play down the significance of the reference to Gibraltar.
At the end of the summit, Mr Sánchez addressed reporters and took questions for nearly 40 minutes.
There was only one question on Gibraltar, and it came at the very end of the press conference from a BBC journalist who asked Mr Sánchez why Gibraltar had been mentioned in the text.
“What are your concerns?” the journalist asked.
“There are no concerns, honestly, it’s just that we missed Gibraltar’s inclusion because this is an important issue for Spain,” he replied.
Mr Sánchez said he had spoken briefly to Mrs May and that he intended to follow that up with a more substantive contact with the Prime Minister.
“We agreed to meet to and to continue the negotiation to resolve the issue of Gibraltar.”
“There’s no specific reason [for Gibraltar’s inclusion in the text] beyond that one of the Brexit files is, logically, Gibraltar.”
“But nothing more than that.”
FULL STORY IN OUR PRINT AND E-EDITIONS