Spain strikes last-minute deal on Gibraltar and unlocks Brexit deal

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of the European Council summit in Brussels in October. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA]

The Brexit deal is good to go. The Spanish government announced on Saturday (24 November) that it would back the deal after striking a last-minute agreement to ensure any agreement for the future relationship with the UK will not automatically apply to Gibraltar.

“Europe and the United Kingdom have accepted Spain’s demands. España will lift its veto and vote tomorrow in favour of the Brexit deal,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced.

The agreement takes the form of several declarations. On the one hand, the UK ambassador for the EU has signed a letter that clarifies that the British will align with the interpretation of the controversial Article 184 on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. 

In particular, it states that the article “imposes no obligations regarding the territorial scope of such agreements and that there is, therefore, no obligations or presumption, on the basis of this provision, for such agreements to have the same territorial scope of the one provided in Article 3 of the withdrawal agreement.”

In short, it does not necessarily apply to Gibraltar, which is exactly what Spain was asking for.

The Empress’s new Brexit clothes

One single sentence devoted to space activities in the EU-UK political declaration states that “the Parties should consider appropriate arrangements for co-operation on space”. Nothing better sums up the 26-page declaration on post-Brexit relations: it promises everything and nothing.

“Once the United Kingdom leave the European Union, the relationship between the EU and Gibraltar, either political, juridical or even geographical, will have to pass through Spain,” Sánchez said. 

The 27 member states will also back a declaration on the territorial scope of the future relationship which establishes that “Gibraltar will not be included” in those agreements, but “it does not preclude the possibility to have separate agreements” on ‘The Rock’. 

However, those deals “will require prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain,” the text highlighted, as the Spanish government demanded. The EU27 will be approved as Council conclusions and therefore legally binding, something Madrid asked as well.

“The Council and the European Commission reinforce therefore Spain’s position, as never before, ahead of the most vital negotiations that we will have, because we will need to talk about co-sovereignty, among many other things, with the UK,” the Spanish PM said. 

Furthermore, both the European Council president Donald Tusk and the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will have signed a letter ratifying Spain’s demands. 

“We understand the sensitivity of the current situation and would like to underline our solidarity with the Kingdom of Spain on this matter,” Juncker and Tusk stated.

The Spanish government, Sánchez said, aims to have “fruitful, close and ambitious” relationship with the territory in the future, that will favour both Gibraltar and the so-called ‘Field of Gibraltar’. Prosperity in the area, he said, “is a state matter”. 

An end to a week of Brexit drama

Spain threatened on Monday (19 November) to block the Brexit deal as the Article 184 was included “from a day to another,” Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said after a meeting of the Article 50 General Affairs Council.

Although several countries have expressed their sympathies for the Spanish case, at the same time, both the Commission and the other counties pointed that there was not much room for changes in the text.

The Brexit task force has been negotiating with Spain over the past few days. The agreement is a win for Spain, as they get a clarification on the scope of article 184, but a loss, as neither the withdrawal agreement nor the political declaration is modified.

The article 50 states that the withdrawal agreement “shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.” 

Nevertheless, member states decided to meet for an extraordinary European Council ahead of the legal ratification to put their stamp on the text. Decisions at the European Council are traditionally taken by unanimity. 

After months praising the unity of the EU27 throughout the Brexit negotiations, it seemed unlikely that member states would be willing to leave one country behind in an event of such political importance. 

Thus, only after a phone call with the Spanish Prime Minister did Donald Tusk send the formal invitation letter to member states, just a few hours before the European Council actually takes place.

Brexit deal 'within our grasp', May insists after EU-UK political declaration

A Brexit deal is “within our grasp”, Theresa May said on Thursday (22 November) after negotiators concluded a political declaration on what EU-UK relations should look like post-Brexit.

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