Gibraltar is turning into a serious Brexit headache.
Even as Theresa May was meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels to iron out remaining creases in the draft agreement on the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc, a serious spat has emerged on the EU27 side.
Following the 1-hour-50-minute sit-down with Juncker, May said it had been a “very good meeting,” but that she would return for further talks later on. “We have made further progress and as a result, we have given sufficient direction to our negotiators. I hope for them to be able to resolve the remaining issues. ” the U.K. prime minister said.
A Commission spokesperson issued a two-sentence statement hailing “very good progress.”
But on the EU side, a rumbling disagreement over how matters relating to Gibraltar should be treated in the withdrawal treaty is beginning to try to the patience of diplomats.
There is incredulity among some that Madrid is signaling it will risk upending the painstakingly negotiated 585-page Withdrawal Agreement over the disputed 6.7 square kilometers of territory on Spain’s southern coast. They want to send a united message to London that the divorce treaty cannot be reopened.
“The withdrawal treaty text is agreed, it’s closed,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in an interview with Euronews Wednesday — his comment aimed at Brexiteers in May’s party who want her to renegotiate the deal.
“If you reopen [the Withdrawal Agreement] for one issue, well then there is an avalanche of other asks, I am sure, that different countries will have,” Coveney added.
But that already appears to be in danger of happening. “We are following the latest developments with growing concern and incomprehension,” said an EU diplomat. “Among the EU27 our Spanish friends are all alone on this.”
“No one wants to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. That would lead to the crumbling away of the whole Brexit agreement and lead us all into no man’s land,” the diplomat said. “If they want solidarity they must be sensible,” said another diplomat.
Madrid is demanding tighter wording in the text to make clear that negotiations on the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU will be conducted separately to those between the U.K. and EU — and that they can only proceed with Madrid’s approval. But two diplomats said that the Council’s legal service made clear that there’s no need to specify this.
However “as of today, if there are no changes with respect to Gibraltar, Spain will vote no to the agreement on Brexit,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Tuesday. Foreign Minister Josep Borrell reiterated that message in a POLITICO interview. “Negotiations between the U.K. and EU do not apply to Gibraltar,” he said.
At a meeting of EU27 ambassadors mid last month, the differences over the Gibraltar issue led to a testy exchange between the representatives of one founding EU country and Spain. The former tried to mollify his Spanish counterpart with a promise to try to find a “constructive agreement without reopening the [Withdrawal Agreement].”
But Spain’s ambassador replied that the issue is “most important” and that “we should not confuse between who is leaving and who is staying,” according to another diplomat present.
One diplomat said Madrid is recalling Spain’s accession to the club in 1986. The U.K. was already a member so accepting Gibraltar’s status was a precondition for joining. “They don’t want another imposition on their territory,” said the diplomat.
Is Gibraltar part of the EU?
Gibraltar has a special relationship with the European Community, which is different from any other overseas territory of a member state. Under the Treaty of Rome 1973 and the UK Act of
The accession of the same year, Gibraltar was classified as a dependent territory of the United Kingdom. Although Gibraltar has its own Parliament which is responsible for passing legislation, including European Community Directives, the UK Government is responsible for Gibraltar’s foreign affairs, including their relationships within the European Union.