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Spain ‘won’t seek Gib conditions on Brexit extension’ - Borrell

Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Spain will not seek new conditions in respect of Gibraltar should the UK request an extension to the March 29 Brexit deadline, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said yesterday.

Mr Borrell was speaking as the UK Parliament prepared to vote for a third time on Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Withdrawal Agreement, which has already been overwhelmingly rejected twice.

If MPs knock it back a third time – and even the vote itself is in question following Speaker John Bercow’s ruling yesterday evening - Mrs May will almost certainly seek an extension from the EU to prolong the deadline for withdrawal.

That has raised concern that some EU countries could seek to impose conditions on any extension, not least Spain in respect of Gibraltar.

But asked that question by the BBC yesterday, Mr Borrell’s answer was a categorical “no”.

“Forget about Gibraltar,” he said.

“Everything has been settled…”

“Don’t go back to that.”

The minister’s comments on Monday came after the Financial Times reported that a policy statement ahead of a European Council meeting on Thursday made clear that Britain would have to take part in EU elections in May if it wanted an extension of more than three months.

Alternatively, the EU would terminate Britain’s membership of the bloc on July 1.

But a leaked copy of the draft document seen by the FT also made clear that individual EU countries would find it hard to impose conditions on any extension.

Article 50 “…does not foresee that an extension could be granted subject to special conditions expressly put on the withdrawing State,” the leaked document said.

Additionally, Article 50 does not contain any special provisions on how an extended withdrawal period would operate for the UK.

“Therefore, the legal regime that governs the situation of the withdrawing Member State during the extended withdrawal period is the same as it is during the initial duration of that period,” the document added.

“No special arrangements may be foreseen in the European Council decision to extend…”

In Brussels on Monday, Mr Borrell said the EU hoped that MPs in the House of Commons would embrace Mrs May’s agreement on the third vote.

“That would be the best solution for everybody,” he said.

He expressed frustration that MPs wanted Brexit but had so far refused to accept Mrs May, while also ruling out leaving without an agreement or even calling a new referendum.

“I understand that to mean that they want another kind of agreement, so they’ll have to modify some of their red lines,” he said.

“Because if they don’t modify their red lines, it’s difficult to image which kind of agreement we can build.”