BRUSSELS • Spain's eleventh-hour objection over Gibraltar prevented the European Union from clearing the last hurdle before a leaders' summit tomorrow is due to endorse the Brexit deal with Britain.
A meeting in Brussels yesterday - attended by national negotiators of the 27 EU states staying on together after Brexit - ended with no agreement on Gibraltar after nearly three hours.
Four months before Britain leaves the EU, the legal divorce treaty and an accompanying political declaration on future ties are due to be rubber-stamped by British Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the 27 countries remaining in the EU.
Britain faces "more division and more uncertainty" if a draft Brexit deal falls through, Mrs May said yesterday as she sought to win over sceptical Britons ahead of the summit this weekend.
In a call-in show on BBC radio, Mrs May also refused to say whether or not she would resign if the British Parliament eventually voted down the divorce agreement and outline on future ties.
"This isn't about me... I am focused on ensuring we get this deal," she said, adding that she would be touring Britain to explain the agreement "to people up and down the country".
"If this deal does not go through, we are back to square one. What we end up with is more division and more uncertainty."
CONCERNS OVER TERRITORY
After my conversation with Theresa May, our positions remain far away. My government will always defend the interests of Spain. If there are no changes, we will veto Brexit.
SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ, who says Spain will be against the Brexit package tomorrow if changes over Gibraltar are not made in Britain's legal withdrawal treaty and the accompanying political declaration.
Mrs May will arrive for more talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels late today, just hours before the summit is due to start.
Her spokesman said in London that Mrs May would work with the Spanish government on Gibraltar, a disputed British overseas territory.
Spain has asked for changes to Britain's legal withdrawal treaty and the accompanying political declaration to make clear that any decisions about Gibraltar would be taken only with Madrid.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday that Spain would be against the Brexit package tomorrow if it is not changed.
"After my conversation with Theresa May, our positions remain far away. My government will always defend the interests of Spain. If there are no changes, we will veto Brexit," he said.
Under EU rules, the withdrawal treaty is adopted by a majority and not unanimity, so a single state cannot block it.
However, EU leaders want unity on this most politically sensitive matter. "We've worked very hard and have in fact reached agreement with Spanish colleagues in respect of Gibraltar's role in the withdrawal process," said Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday.
"If (the withdrawal agreement is) opened for one comma or one full stop on Gibraltar, it's going to be reopened on any of the other issues."
The Brexit accord faces vehement opposition in the British Parliament, which must vote in favour for it to take effect.
Otherwise Britain risks leaving the bloc on March 29 next year without an agreement to mitigate economic disruption.
Mrs May's former Brexit minister, Mr Dominic Raab, yesterday expected the House of Commons to vote it down.
Determined not to allow any redrafting of either of the two texts and risk derailing the process, EU states have instead proposed addressing Spain's concerns in a separate statement by the 27 leaders tomorrow that would not be part of negotiations with Britain.
It could refer back to the EU's 2017 Brexit negotiating mandate, which said: "After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom."
The EU's 27 national negotiators are due to meet again today.
The Brexit deal covers financial settlement, expatriates' rights and the Irish border, as well as setting a blueprint for future trade and security ties.
It must also be backed by the European Parliament to come into force.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE