UK prime minister Theresa May has vowed that she will “always stand by Gibraltar” despite striking a compromise with Spain in order to get her Brexit deal with the European Union over the line.
Over the last day, May has been accused by Labour of abandoning Gibraltar after Spain’s government claimed to have secured the country’s greatest diplomatic victory for 300 years.
But May, who is in Brussels to meet EU leaders ahead of Sunday’s Brexit summit, insisted she hasn’t given an inch on the issue.
“We will always negotiate on behalf of the whole UK family, including Gibraltar and in the future relationship we will stand up for their interests,” she told journalists in Brussels. “And the UK’s position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar has not changed and will not change. I’m proud that Gibraltar is British and I will always stand by Gibraltar.”
The UK government and EU have given written assurances to Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez that any future trade deal will not be applied to Gibraltar without Spain’s consent.
After failing to have the commitment included in the withdrawal agreement, Sanchez threatened to veto the Brexit deal without the letters.
“It is clear that after the United Kingdom leaves the union, Gibraltar will not be included in the territorial scope of the agreements to be concluded between the union and the United Kingdom,” said the EU’s letter to Sanchez.
It added a separate agreement covering Gibraltar “will require a prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain.” Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell said the written assurances was the country’s most important international agreement since 1713.
The agreement on #Gibraltar reached today within the framework of the #Brexit negotiations is highly positive for #Spain and the most important one since the #Utrecht Treaty of 1713. I want to personally thank the Secretary of State for the #EU, our Permanent Representation (1/2)
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) November 24, 2018
Sanchez said it meant “the relationship between Gibraltar and the EU — political, legal and geographical relationship — will go through Spain.” He also increased tensions by declaring he wants to discuss “co-sovereignty” of the territory with the UK.
Molly Scott Cato, a British MEP who represents Gibraltar, said it “looks like the government has sold out Gibraltar and abandoned talk of a future trade deal that works for the whole British family.”
But May insisted it was the UK who had scored a victory in negotiations by ensuring Gibraltar was covered by the withdrawal agreement. “In the future, we will continue to negotiate on behalf of the whole UK family and that includes Gibraltar,” she added. “I’m proud that Gibraltar is British. I will always stand by Gibraltar.”
The embattled prime minister was backed by Gibraltar’s leader, Fabian Picardo, in his live TV address over the diplomatic storm surrounding the British enclave of 30,000 people.
“The legal text of the draft withdrawal has not been changed,” he said. “That is what the Spanish government has repeatedly sort but they have not achieved that.”
Gibraltar’s chief minister called for the letters of assurance, given to Spain on Saturday, in order to avoid a delay over the Brexit deal as “pieces of paper that will have no legal effect.”
And he concluded his address by comparing Sanchez, a fellow socialist politician, to former Spanish dictator, Franco.
“I must tell him that whilst he pursues the sovereignty of Gibraltar in the manner that he has today, he is doing no more than pursuing the policy bidding of the Generalisimo himself,” said Picardo. “I sincerely hope he changes course.”
May met the presidents of the European commission, European council and European parliament on Saturday evening.
Gibraltar was the final issue to be resolved after 18 months of negotiations, paving the way for the deal to be signed-off at Sunday’s summit. Its final hurdle will be votes in the UK and European parliaments.