November 19, 2018 / 1:57 PM / 21 days ago

Spain seeks assurances over Gibraltar in draft Brexit deal

MADRID/BRUSSELS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Spain will not back the European Union’s draft Brexit agreement without clarity that Madrid will be able to negotiate the future of Gibraltar directly with Britain, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Monday.

Arriving for Brexit talks with EU ministers, Borrell said Madrid wanted the deal on Britain’s exit to make clear that talks on ties between London and the bloc will not apply to Gibraltar.

“The negotiations between Britain and the EU have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar, the negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions,” Borrell said.

“This is what needs to made clear, and until it is clarified in the withdrawal agreement and in the political declaration on the future relationship, we cannot give our backing (to the deal).”

A small peninsula on Spain’s southern coast and a British territory since 1713, Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations. Spain has long claimed sovereignty over the territory.

Gibraltar is due to leave the European Union along with the United Kingdom in March, although 96 percent of its population voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the bloc.

Spain said last week that it welcomed the inclusion of a protocol on Gibraltar in the draft Brexit agreement and that it would be positive for residents there.

An EU diplomat said the issue could go as far as the Sunday summit of all EU leaders aimed at rubber-stamping the Brexit deal, where other outstanding points are fishing and a limit on any extension of a post-Brexit transition phase.

Noting how Spain was obliged to accept British positions on Gibraltar when it was negotiating its 1986 accession to the bloc, a decade after Britain had joined, a senior EU official said London now had to accept that “the tables have turned”. (Reporting by Jose Elias Rodriguez in Madrid, Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Ed Osmond)

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