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EU leaders to clear transition deal, but restate solidarity with Spain too

Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

EU leaders are tomorrow expected to restate their support for Spain’s position on Brexit and Gibraltar, a draft statement ahead of a European Council meeting showed yesterday.

The 27 leaders, who will meet Prime Minister Theresa May today, will endorse an interim
deal struck by EU negotiators on Monday to grant London a 21-month, status quo transition period to help businesses adjust to Brexit, due in March 2019.

A written declaration reflect- ing that was held up for redrafting after Spain sought a reiteration of its interests being protected over Gibraltar

Summit chair Donald Tusk said on Wednesday that Spain had agreed to the new wording.

Ireland has also been anxious to ensure Britain makes good on promises to solve difficulties on their mutual border.

The text reminds London that the agreement on the transition will only become legally binding once the whole treaty on Britain’s exit from the bloc is agreed and ratified, probably not until early next year.

“The European Council welcomes the agreement reached by the negotiators on parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement covering citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, a number of other withdrawal issues and the transition,” it read.

“The European Council recalls that other issues still require agreement and negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full, and welcomes in this respect Prime Minister May’s written assurances notably regarding Ireland/Northern Ireland.”

“The European Council calls for intensified efforts on the remaining withdrawal issues as well as issues related to the territorial application of the Withdrawal Agreement, notably as regards Gibraltar, and reiterates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

The development came as the House of Lords Select Committee pressed the UK Government confirm “unequivocally” that Gibraltar falls within the territorial scope of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, including the transition elements.

In a letter to Mr Davis Lord Boswell of Aynho, the chairman of the influential Committee, said there is “an unhelpful lack of clarity in the Agreement” and called for the point to be resolved.

He therefore asked Mr Davis: “What steps is the Government taking, in discussions with the EU Chief Negotiator, with Gibraltar and with Spain, to confirm unequivocally that Gibraltar falls within the territorial scope of any Withdrawal Agreement, including the transition elements?”

The agreement, published on Monday, states that any reference to the UK includes Gibraltar but this is qualified by an asterisked footnote, explaining that the application of the Agreement must “fully respect” the European Council’s earlier guidelines that no deal may apply to Gibraltar without the express consent of Spain.

Lord Boswell, who recently paid a short fact-finding visit to the Rock, flagged in his letter how the British Government had stated its belief “that Gibraltar is covered by our negotiations for withdrawal, the implementation period and the future relationship”.

And, that this commitment was repeated by Mr Davis at the 19 March press conference announcing the agreement.

However Lord Boswell also noted Michel Barnier’s words earlier this week.

Mr Barnier told reporters that “Gibraltar leaves the European Union at the same time as the United Kingdom [and] legally, we’ve specified the territorial scope of the agreement.

“But there’s a reference which remains valid [and] which member states are keen on, all member states of the European Union on behalf of whom I negotiate.”

Mr Barnier added: “Twice, the 27 member states and heads of state and government indicated their position on the question of Gibraltar, in total solidarity with the Spanish Government.”

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