Spain will vote against the divorce agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom unless Gibraltar’s future relationship with the bloc is considered a bilateral issue between Madrid and London, rather than between the EU and UK, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said yesterday.
Spain wants a veto on Gibraltar’s inclusion in any deal on the future relationship, the next phase of the Brexit negotiations once the draft Withdrawal Agreement is agreed.
Without that veto, Mr Sanchez said he will vote against the Brexit withdrawal agreement at a special EU summit on Sunday.
The position was first set out by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell on Monday but hardened yesterday when Mr Sanchez himself underlined the point.
At issue is Article 184 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which Spain claims was “introduced overnight” into the text and sent to Mrs May by EU negotiators without Spain’s knowledge.
Madrid is concerned that Article 184 would in effect extend any deal on the future agreement to Gibraltar without Spain first having a say.
“In truth, we’re the ones who are surprised,” Mr Sanchez said during a conference in Madrid organised by The Economist.
Mr Sanchez said his government had taken a “productive and pro-European” stance in the Brexit process during talks with EU partners.
But he said that just 72 hours ago, Spain had discovered that the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration on the future relations did not make clear Spain’s position on Gibraltar.
“This is fundamental for us from the point of view of identity, of the country,” Mr Sanchez said.
“Gibraltar is not part of the United Kingdom, it is represented by the United Kingdom but it is not part of it.”
“As a country, we cannot accept that whatever happens with Gibraltar in the future will depend on a negotiation between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”
“It will have to be something that is defined, negotiated and agreed by the United Kingdom and Spain.”
“As of 72 hours ago, that is not guaranteed either in the Withdrawal Agreement or in the future declaration.”
“As such, as it stands right now, I’m afraid to say that without changes Spain, a pro-European government, will vote no to Brexit on these terms.”
Mr Sanchez did not blame the UK or Gibraltar for the impasse, but rather pointed to EU negotiators in Brussels.
“If this pro-European government finds itself in this situation, it’s because someone in Brussels has not done their job properly,” he said.
On Monday, the UK Government made clear that it would include Gibraltar in its negotiations for a future relationship with the EU.
“The draft withdrawal agreement agreed last week covers Gibraltar,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May.
“The PM has been clear that we will not exclude Gibraltar and the other overseas territories and the crown dependences from our negotiations on the future relationship.”
“We will get a deal that works for the whole UK family.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Spain’s “eleventh hour tactics” were at odds with the constructive approach taken by all sides in the process so far.
He said the language of vetoes “should be a thing of the past” and that Spain’s latest stance would do little to foster mutual confidence and trust going forward.
“The language of vetoes has no place in the modern Europe of today at a time when both the United Kingdom and Gibraltar are trying to build a new positive future relationship with the EU,” Mr Picardo said.
The latest developments come after the Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado this weekend accused Spain’s Socialist government of “treason” for failing to use Brexit to push its historical sovereignty aspirations over Gibraltar.
In the run-up to regional elections in Andalucia, Mr Casado has focused on Gibraltar as a means of piling pressure on the PSOE.
He is pushing the hardline policies formulated by the PP’s former Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel García-Margallo, even though these had been dropped by the PP itself under his successor, Afonso Dastis.
There was a sense yesterday in London and Gibraltar that much of the PSOE’s reaction over the past two days was in large part driven by political pressure from the right.
Yesterday, in an interview with the Politico website, Spanish Foreign Minister Mr Borrell sought to play down concerns that Spain’s position could scuttle the divorce deal at the last minute.
But he left no doubt as to Spain’s intentions if its concerns were not addressed.
“I want it to be clear on the political declaration – I don’t mind about the instrument – that the future will be negotiated about Gibraltar between the UK and Spain,” he said.
“Let’s hope that in the meeting in the Council, everybody will agree.”
“If there is not clarity that agreements between the EU and UK about Gibraltar cannot go forward without Spain, then Spain will not be able to agree.”
And he added: “ I don’t like the word veto. I prefer consensus.”
According to EU rules, the withdrawal treaty is adopted by 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.
In Brussels, EU spokesman 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 Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”, a reference to the controversial Clause 24 of the EU’s negotiating guidelines.
“We are at a stage where we are working closely with all our member states and in full respect of the European Council guidelines,” Mr Schinas said.
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, Reuters reported yesterday.