Spain won't back Brexit deal without clarity on Gibraltar, foreign minister says

Spain will not back the European Union's draft Brexit agreement without clarity that Madrid will be able to negotiate the future of Gibraltar directly with Britain, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Monday.

Madrid seeks power to negotiate directly with U.K. in future talks over British territory

Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell insisted Monday that Madrid needed more clarity on the future of Gibraltar, the British territory at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, before it would allow a draft divorce deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom to proceed. (EPA-EFE)

Spain will not back the European Union's draft Brexit agreement without clarity that Madrid will be able to negotiate the future of Gibraltar directly with Britain, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell said Monday.

After arriving for Brexit talks with EU ministers, Borrell said Madrid wanted the deal on Britain's exit to make clear that talks on ties between London and the bloc will not apply to Gibraltar.

A small peninsula on Spain's southern coast and a British territory since 1713, Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations. Spain has long claimed sovereignty over the territory.

"The negotiations between Britain and the EU have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar. The negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions," Borrell said.

"This is what needs [to] be made clear, and until it is clarified in the withdrawal agreement and in the political declaration on the future relationship, we cannot give our backing [to the deal]."

Gibraltar is due to leave the EU along with the United Kingdom in March, although 96 per cent of its population voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the bloc.

Spain said last week that it welcomed the inclusion of a protocol on Gibraltar in the draft Brexit agreement, but Borrell said at a news conference later on Monday that the document introduced "a certain confusion" on the issue.

Gibraltar Rock is seen last week near the British overseas territory's border with Spain. In the U.K.'s 2016 Brexit referendum, about 96 per cent of people in Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

As no concrete political declaration on Britain's future relationship with the bloc after it leaves has been presented, he said, "We cannot judge the whole without knowing the parts."

An EU diplomat said the issue could go as far as the Sunday summit of all EU leaders aimed at rubber-stamping the Brexit deal, where other outstanding points are fisheries and a limit on any extension of a post-Brexit transition phase.

But Borrell rejected this idea, suggesting Sunday's meeting should not take place if the issue were not resolved beforehand.

Noting how Spain was obliged to accept British positions on Gibraltar when it was negotiating its 1986 accession to the bloc, a decade after Britain had joined, a senior EU official said London now had to accept that "the tables have turned."