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Albares ‘a little more optimistic’ on treaty prospects after Sunak/Sanchez call

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, said a phone conversation on Thursday between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sanchez, raised optimism for the prospect of agreement on a treaty for the Rock’s post-Brexit relations with the EU.

Mr Albares was speaking to reporters during a visit to Vigo in Galicia, where he reflected on the phone call a day earlier in which, according to 10 Downing Street, the two prime ministers “agreed on the importance of progressing negotiations on a UK-EU Treaty and concluding a suitable agreement as soon as possible.”

“Today we can be a little more optimistic than before that phone call, although I have always, always, seen the constructive spirit of the United Kingdom to reach that agreement,” Mr Albares said on Friday.

“I believe we are closer and on the part of the Spanish Government, we are ready to sign today.”

Mr Albares, who had previously indicated negotiators were "very close" to a deal, would not be drawn on any detail, adding "diplomacy requires discretion".

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but I believe that if we truly want a zone of shared prosperity, it is very simple to understand what is needed," he said.

The negotiation is for a treaty between the UK and the EU, but Brussels’ position is that Spain must be happy with any agreement before it is signed.

One of the core aims of the negotiation is to guarantee border fluidity by establishing a common travel area between Gibraltar and the Schengen zone, effectively removing immigration controls at the border.

Schengen checks would instead be carried out at the airport and port after clearing Gibraltar immigration.

But those checks would require EU oversight, to be provided by Spain - as the nearest Schengen member - with assistance from Frontex as set out in the New Years Eve framework agreement.

How those Schengen checks will work in practice has been one of the thorny issues in the negotiation, which also envisages a bespoke customs arrangement between Gibraltar and the EU.

Spain has reportedly also raised the issue of the airport, although this did not form part of the framework agreement between the UK and Spain on which the negotiation is based.

“The shared use of existing infrastructure for the benefit of the entire Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar, as well as homogeneous conditions to ensure that there are no open gaps in the single market" is the path, Mr Albares said on Friday.

"We agree that we need to create that zone of shared prosperity.”

"Every day that passes, because now the ball is in the court of the United Kingdom, every day that passes without signing that agreement, is a lost day to create that zone of shared prosperity.”

“The Spanish government would sign it today.”

The last formal round of talks between the UK – with Gibraltar - and the EU took place in London late April.

After that round, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was upbeat about the prospects of a deal being agreed.

“Not only do I think it’s possible, I think it’s likely,” he said at the time.

None of the parties in the negotiation have committed to a firm deadline by which an agreement must be reached.

But both Spain and Gibraltar are due to hold general elections later this year, adding a sense of urgency to the talks.

There has been no public indication of when a deal – assuming one is reached – might be announced, but two additional factors could impact on timing.

Spain is also holding municipal elections on May 28, preceded by a fortnight of campaigning due to start on May 12.

Spain is also due to take over the EU presidency for six months as from July.

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