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Spain seeks assurances over Gibraltar in draft Brexit deal

MADRID/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Spain will not back the European Union’s draft Brexit agreement unless it makes clear that Madrid must specifically agree on the status of Gibraltar, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Monday.

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

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

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.

“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).”

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, but Borrell said at a news conference later on Monday that the document introduced “a certain confusion” on the issue.

As no political declaration on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc after it leaves has been presented, he said “We cannot judge the whole without knowing the parts.”

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.

But Borrell rejected this idea, suggesting Sunday’s meeting should not take place if the issue were not resolved beforehand.

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 and Isla Binnie in Madrid, Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Ed Osmond