Spain has threatened to “veto Brexit” in an angry exchange just hours before Theresa May’s deal is due to be signed off by the EU.
The Prime Minister has led whirlwind diplomacy with Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez – who wants a greater say over Gibraltar.
But he tweeted: “Our positions remain far away. My government will always defend the interests of Spain.
“If there are no changes, we will veto Brexit.”
There’s a huge catch however – Spain simply cannot veto the Brexit withdrawal deal at this stage. It only needs a ‘qualified majority’ of 20 of the 27 EU member states this Sunday.
It could spell huge trouble for a future EU-UK trade deal, where testy negotiations will involve all nations.
But that’s a problem that will build down the line, not one that will come to a head this weekend.
That means unless Spain convinces other nations to boycott the withdrawal text too, it could pass even with Madrid against.
The UK government has made clear it will not give in to Spain’s demand for “shared sovereignty” over the Rock.
Theresa May told MPs yesterday: “We have been working constructively with the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar in the negotiations.
“We want this work to continue in the future relationship.
“But I was absolutely clear Gibraltar’s British sovereignty will be protected and the future relationship must work for the whole UK family.”
Treasury minister Mel Stride insisted last night: “We are not going to compromise on the sovereignty issue around Gibraltar.
“It would be quite unusual if something like that with one country was used to be a spanner in the works of an entire deal for 28 countries.”
Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo insisted he was already talking to Spain and “there’s absolutely no need” to force him to the table.
Frantic talks in Brussels were continuing today in a last-minute push to iron out the remaining issues before Sunday’s summit.
Theresa May will meet EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow in the Belgian capital after 611 pages of text were agreed.
But she faces a huge row back home with Tory MPs, who warn they’ll still vote the deal down despite a new ‘political declaration’ on trade.
It emerged the new text had dropped the PM’s vow of “frictionless trade” and promised more close ties to EU customs rules.
Brexit deal countdown
25 November 2018: Emergency EU summit with 27 other leaders to sign off the deal.
Early December? A vote in the House of Commons on the deal.
13 December: The last chance EU Council summit, where deal could come back for more negotiation.
20 December: Parliament rises for its Christmas break. Final or ‘re-run’ vote by MPs must be held before now. If it fails there could be no deal, or a general election, or a second EU referendum.
29 March 2019: Brexit Day. If there’s a deal, this will be a total anticlimax because a transition will be in place. If there’s No Deal, planes could be grounded, ports jammed up and customs checks thrown into chaos at 11pm.
31 December 2020: If there’s a deal, this is when the transition period – which continues pretty much all the EU rules we have now – is supposed to end. But it could be extended by two more years.
1 January 2021: If there’s still no deal, under current plans a “backstop” would kick in. This could keep the UK tied to EU customs rules, until a proper agreement is reached, in exchange for keeping the Northern Ireland border open.
Even the pro-EU Confederation of British Industry, which lavished praise on the deal in public, admitted it was “not good” in leaked e-mails.
Wine stockist Majestic is taking no chances – and is stockpiling a million bottles if there’s no agreement by March 29.