PM ‘caves in’ to Spain over Gibraltar trade

PM ‘caves in’ to Spain over Gibraltar trade

Theresa May faced claims of capitulation last night as Britain gave way to Spanish demands over Gibraltar to clear the way for her Brexit deal to be approved today.

Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, sent a letter clarifying that the Rock would be covered by a future trade deal with the EU only with Madrid’s consent.

The statement was arranged after Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, threatened to force the summit’s cancellation and “veto Brexit”.

But Sanchez immediately inflamed the situation, claiming the UK would now have to open talks on “joint sovereignty” of Gibraltar. He declared: “Europe and the UK have accepted the demands put forward by Spain.” May responded by saying she would “stand by” the citizens of Gibraltar.“The UK’s position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar has not changed and will not change,” she said.

“We have ensured they are covered by the whole of the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period.”

Officials said the statement offered a way for Sanchez to save face without changing UK policy. All member states will have a veto over any EU-UK trade agreement.

But the prime minister came under pressure last night from Brexiteers.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: “May has capitulated to every single EU demand. She’s abandoned Northern Ireland and now Gibraltar. At no time does she push back. It’s almost beyond words how bad this is.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who resigned as a ministerial aide over the deal, wrote to May warning that the Spanish had been letting Russian warships refuel in their ports. “This attitude from the Spanish authorities should cause us all profound concern, and indeed highlight why it is imperative that no changes to Gibraltar status or control be even contemplated. The thought that treaties you might sign our country up to could in any way risk the safe passage of trade or Nato military activity is inconceivable.”

Leave campaign donor Arron Banks added: “You might as well hand the Falklands back to Argentina for good measure.”

The statements capped a week of jitters that threatened to derail today’s summit. Spanish diplomats had grown “irrational” over the issue of Gibraltar, according to one insider.

Sanchez’s party faces elections in Andalusia next Sunday and observers interpreted the spat as a way of boosting his centre-left party before the poll.

Officials yesterday finalised a two-page statement by the EU27 that ironed out the remaining Brexit wrinkles on fisheries and a commitment to a “level-playing field” on regulations.

Andrew Byrne & Caroline Wheeler

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