Spain threatens to vote no against Brexit deal because of Gibraltar

  • While controversy over a draft Brexit deal with the European Union continues to dominate the U.K.'s political agenda, the thorny subject of Gibraltar is upsetting Spain once again.
  • Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Spain will reject the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, struck between the U.K. and EU last week, without a clarification on the status of Gibraltar in future talks.
  • Spain wants to make sure it is not left out of any future EU-U.K. talks on Gibraltar.
Gibraltarians gather for a political rally in Grand Casements Square held to mark Gibraltar National Day on September 10, 2018 in Gibraltar, Gibraltar. 
Matt Cardy | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Gibraltarians gather for a political rally in Grand Casements Square held to mark Gibraltar National Day on September 10, 2018 in Gibraltar, Gibraltar. 

While controversy over a draft Brexit deal with the European Union continues to dominate the U.K.'s political agenda, the thorny subject of Gibraltar is upsetting Spain once again.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Spain will reject the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement, struck between the U.K. and EU last week, without a clarification of the text the will shape future talks on the status of Gibraltar — a tiny overseas territory with British sovereignty on the south coast of Spain.

The draft Brexit deal, or the "Withdrawal Agreement" as it's officially known, covers a multitude of elements regarding the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU, including citizens' rights, the financial settlement and a transition period (of 21 months after March 2019 when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU) as well as protocols on Ireland, Gibraltar and Cyprus.

Spain wants to make sure it is not left out of any future EU-U.K. talks on Gibraltar. Sanchez tweeted Tuesday that any talks on Gibraltar's status, after the transition period ends, must be held between Spain and the U.K.

It said these changes would have to be made on Sunday, when the European Council (the EU heads of state) meets for a special summit on Brexit.

Dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, Gibraltar was ceded to the Brits in the early 1700s after being captured from Spain. The sovereignty of the territory has been a bone of contention between the U.K. and Spain ever since with various attempts by the Spanish to re-take the land.

Spain asserts a claim to Gibraltar although residents have rejected that in two separate referendums, the last one being in 2002. Then, the U.K. government proposed sharing sovereignty with Spain but, giving the people of Gibraltar a vote, 98.9 percent rejected the proposal.

Rock and a hard place

With the Brexit referendum in 2016 seeing a majority of Brits vote to leave the EU, the future of Gibraltar (which will leave the EU, along with the rest of the U.K.) came to the fore once again.

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement on Monday that "it does not come as a surprise that Madrid should seek to raise new Gibraltar issues at the last minute in our negotiations to leave the EU. Raising issues at the eleventh hour is a well-known tactic that has been used by Spain in the past while we were in the EU," he said.

He said the U.K. had already said that Gibraltar would not be excluded from negotiations on a future relationship with the EU.

As for Spain's inclusion in such talks involving Gibraltar, the European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said Tuesday that Spain would be included.

"We are aware of Spain's concerns … The European Union's position on Gibraltar is clear and is stated in the European Council guidelines of 29 April 2017 that 'after the U.K. leaves the EU, no agreement between the EU and U.K. may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and United Kingdom,'" he said in Tuesday's daily press briefing.

The draft Brexit deal has caused upheaval in Britain's political establishment with Brexiteers in government mounting a rebellion against the deal that they say keeps the U.K. too close to Europe. Prime Minister Theresa May has said the deal on offer is the best she can get and said it protected the British economy and jobs.

The draft Brexit deal now not only has to be approved by a majority of the U.K. Parliament, which looks unlikely given the support May can rely on, it also has to be ratified by a qualified majority of the EU's other 27 member states. This means that if Spain voted against the draft deal it would not scupper it.

It's likely that the draft deal will be amended to clarify Spain's involvement in future talks regarding Gibraltar's status in any future relationship to mollify Spain.