The governments of the 27 European Union member states have now had time to carry out their first examination of the draft agreement covering the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the bloc – popularly known as “Brexit” – and on which they will hold a summit on Sunday. For its part, Spain has made clear it is not in a position to sign off on the document given a lack of clarity on the situation of Gibraltar, the contested British Overseas Territory located in the south of Spain.
Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on Monday called on the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to modify an article about the negotiations that will see the establishment of the future relationship between the UK and EU. “We want the interpretation to be clear in that text that the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU will not apply to Gibraltar,” Borrell said following a meeting in Brussels of EU ministers for European affairs.
According to diplomatic sources, Spain was unaware of Article 184 until Wednesday night
The part of the deal that has raised the ire of Spain is article 184, which establishes that there will be negotiations to define the future EU-UK relationship. According to diplomatic sources, Spain was unaware of this article until Wednesday night, when Barnier distributed the text among the 27 member states. In contrast, the Cabinet of British Prime Minister Theresa May had seen it, as had the first minister of Gibraltar, Fabián Picardo.
What’s more, the government’s legal services department wants to avoid at all costs that this provision covers Gibraltar. Borrell has called for a modification to the article so that it leaves no doubt that negotiations with Gibraltar are separate from the withdrawal agreement, and are subject to bilateral talks between London and Madrid.
Diplomatic sources added that what Spain is really demanding is “clarity” – “That what is being negotiated has a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar,” Borrell added. “That the future negotiations on Gibraltar are separate. And that is what has to be made clear.”
A separate framework
The draft Brexit withdrawal agreement contains a protocol on Gibraltar that creates a brand new cooperation framework between London and Madrid to address relations between the Rock and the surrounding Spanish territory known as Campo de Gibraltar.
In six articles, the protocol creates three Spanish-British committees that will be tasked with addressing issues of concern such as the rights of cross-border workers, the fight against smuggling, environmental protection, and cooperation on law enforcement and border control.
According to EU sources, a number of ministers agreed that the Spanish demands should be met. However, the negotiating team and several member states are reluctant to reopen the text to introduce changes; in part, because this would open the door to other countries demanding new terms in a document whose negotiation was a balancing act. Diplomatic sources are not, however, ruling out that a solution could be found via an annex to the deal.
The 2.3-square-mile territory of Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht.
English version by Simon Hunter.