Gibraltar in Brexit focus prior to EU Special Summit

On Sunday, the EU special summit marks the next important hurdle for Britain’s exit process. Then, the heads of state and government of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union are intended to give their agreement to both the EU exit deal with Great Britain and to the political declaration on the future partnership. Federal Chancellor Merkel has already stated that she has no intention of travelling to Brussels in order to conduct negotiations. There is correspondingly high pressure to definitively eliminate the existing differences in advance. This also explains the announcement by Prime Minister May that she will be heading to Brussels again on Saturday evening in order to discuss with European Commission President Juncker any further matters “that require a solution”.

Political declaration on future partnership finalised

It did not transpire until yesterday that the European Commission and the British negotiators had agreed on the text of a declaration of intent on the future relationship. In it, the parties at the negotiating table outline their vision of the partnership after the EU exit and the subsequent transition phase. And it is meant to be a close partnership. Thus a free-trade agreement with quite profound cooperation in the fields of regulation and customs tariffs has been outlined. Both sides are “resolved” to avoid having the backstop enshrined in the exit treaty to prevent visible hard border controls on the island of Ireland. To this end, all technological means as should become available in the future are to be fully utilised, something which the British side has in the past always insisted on. The declaration also contains formulations according to which an “independent trade policy” and the possibility of a restriction in the free movement of persons by Great Britain will be recognised. The transition phase, which was hitherto meant to terminate in December 2020, can, moreover, be extended by up to two years.

The draft now out contains numerous passages that Prime Minister May can use to appease the critics back home. For the EU remainers in parliament she can emphasise the intended close cooperation. The Brexit hardliners, by contrast, should be pleased that British trade agreements with third-party countries and an end to the free movement of people should be possible. Furthermore, the agreement at least on paper makes it less probable that the backstop solution for Ireland, which constitutes a red rag for many MPs, comes into force. All the same, Theresa May will need to do a lot of convincing before the vote in British Parliament if she is to get a majority for “her” Brexit.

So where was Gibraltar again?

As if the British side were not already delivering enough differences and uncertainties, in the last few days disagreement has also emerged within the ranks of the EU member states. A European Commission spokesperson said that neither the issue of fisheries nor the Gibraltar question have been resolved. In particular, the differences of opinion between Madrid and London as regards the British overseas territory is now causing headlines. Thus, Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez is threatening to refuse to agree to the Brexit compromise now tabled and veto it instead. Spain does not really have such a right, as in fact the so-called super-qualified majority would suffice, whereby at least 72% of the Council members need to vote yes and represent at least 65% of the EU population. However, the representatives of the European Union are likely to attach great importance to speaking with a single voice and getting the support of all the community’s governments.

According to the Spaniard, a phone call between May and Sánchez failed to bring the two sides closer. The negotiating parties now have about two more days to overcome the last obstacles en route to the next milestone. Should the weekend not see the exit treaty and declaration of intent sealed, it would set the entire process back. However, it would certainly not spell the end of the Brexit negotiations. The opposite also applies. Even if the heads of state and government sign off the documents, an orderly Brexit is by no means in the bag, as is seems that Theresa May still does not have a majority for her deal in the House of Commons.

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