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Borders & barriers: Could Spain derail Brexit because of Gibraltar?

Borders & barriers: Could Spain derail Brexit because of Gibraltar?
As Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez threatens to reject the draft Brexit deal unless it clarifies the state of future talks on Gibraltar, Birmingham City University lecturer Dr. Arantza Gomez Arana speaks to RT about that possibility.

Prime Minister Sánchez underlined Spain's position when it comes to the draft agreement on Tuesday, stating that it must be modified to make clear that Gibraltar's future will rely solely on talks between Madrid and London.

"As of today, if there are no changes with respect to Gibraltar, Spain will vote no to the agreement on Brexit," Sanchez said. He also drove that message home on Twitter.

But what exactly would a "no" vote from Spain really mean for Brexit? Dr. Arantza Gomez Arana, a lecturer from Birmingham City University's School of Social Sciences and a member of its Centre for Brexit Studies broke down the situation for RT.

The entire debacle centers on Article 184 of Britain's draft withdrawal document, she explained. This is because the article "could be interpreted that the future of Gibraltar is included in the negotiations of the future relations between the UK and the European Union."

Such an interpretation is entirely unacceptable for Spain, which wants absolute clarification that any future talks on Gibraltar will be between Madrid and London, and no one else.

"The same way that the UK could have vetoed the Spanish entrance to the EU in the 1980s, during the negotiations of Brexit, Spain could, in theory, become a barrier in these negotiations."

But any threats from Spain are most likely to be futile unless it manages to get many other European countries on board – which is unlikely. This is because approval of the Brexit plan would only need a qualified majority (not a full consensus of member states).

Spain and the UK have long been negotiating the future of Gibraltar in relation to Brexit, but it seems highly unlikely that Madrid will ever regain the territory which was ceded to the British crown in 1713.

"It is not realistic to expect Gibraltar to become part of Spain," Gomez Arana said, noting that a 2002 referendum saw 99 percent of the population say that it did not agree that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty of the territory.

"Even though Gibraltar voted against Brexit (96%) I tend to think that Gibraltar would still vote against a shared sovereignty with Spain," she said.

What the EU & Gibraltar think

Brussels seems unfazed by Spain's threats, with Reuters reporting that diplomats expect the issue to be resolved by adding the correct language in the withdrawal agreement and the declaration on post-Brexit ties between the EU and Britain by Sunday, when they're due to be presented to EU leaders for approval.

As for Gibraltar itself, it isn't well pleased with Madrid waiting so long to make a statement. "It does not come as a surprise that Madrid should seek to raise new Gibraltar issues at the last minute in our negotiations to leave the EU. Raising issues at the eleventh hour is a well known tactic that has been used by Spain in the past while we were in the EU," Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, wrote in a press release which he posted on Twitter.

Gibraltar, a tiny British territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has long been a point of contention between the UK and Spain, with Madrid asserting a claim to the territory despite it being ceded to the Brits centuries ago after being captured from Spain. Over the years, the Spanish have tried various attempts to retake the land.

Regardless of any future talks regarding Gibraltar, the much disputed territory is set to leave the European Union along with the UK in March, despite the fact that 96 percent of its population voted against Brexit.

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