Brexit: compromise on Gibraltar, the way is free for the summit

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announces agreement on Gibraltar in an address / AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announces agreement on Gibraltar in an address / AFP

The horizon emerged in extremis on Saturday for a historic Brexit agreement to be approved at a summit in Brussels on Sunday, after Spain secured the "guarantees" it demanded from London over the future of the territory of Gibraltar.

A few hours after the announcement of the compromise, British Prime Minister Theresa May was received in Brussels by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. She then met that of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

"Friends will be friends until the end," tweeted Mr. Tusk before the meeting, citing singer Freddie Mercury, who died just 27 years ago.

"This is a final adjustment visit, to stall together the political messages that will be issued publicly Sunday," said a diplomatic source, ensuring that there was "no question of negotiating anything".

The determination of Madrid had cast doubt until the last moment on the very holding of this European Council, which must seal a comprehensive agreement to organize the divorce between the EU and the United Kingdom, scheduled for March 29, 2019.

"I have just announced to the King of Spain that Spain has reached an agreement on Gibraltar", finally announced Saturday afternoon the head of the Spanish government Pedro Sanchez, in a live statement on television.

Madrid "has vetoed and will vote in favor of Brexit," he added, after estimating the day before that the summit would "probably not" take place if he did not get satisfaction.

– "Unit test" –

Spain has received written guarantees from the EU that it will have a veto over any future EU-UK agreement on Gibraltar, a southernmost territory in the UK of the Iberian Peninsula, and of which Spain claims sovereignty.

And Madrid also believes that it has received sufficient assurances from the British authorities, black and white, that future London agreements with the EU would not automatically include Gibraltar.

"I am proud that Gibraltar is British, I will always stay at the side of Gibraltar," May told reporters in Brussels, assuring that the UK's position on territorial sovereignty "has not changed and will not change. not".

Spain did not formally have the power to oppose the approval of an agreement on Sunday. "This is a political issue, not a legal one: it would be a real problem for the 27 that a big country like Spain disassociates Sunday from the approval of the divorce agreement," commented a source. European.

As early as the compromise announced on Gibraltar, Donald Tusk, emcee of Sunday's summit, sent his letter of invitation to European leaders, usually transmitted much further upstream.

"I will recommend that we approve on Sunday the outcome of the Brexit negotiations," he wrote in this letter to the 27 countries that will remain in the EU.

"During these negotiations, no one wanted to defeat anyone, we were all looking for a fair and equitable agreement, and I think we finally found the best possible compromise," he added. judging that the 27 had "passed the test of unity and solidarity".

– "The iceberg before us" –

In addition to Gibraltar, one of the other issues that remained problematic in recent days, that of the future fishing rights of Europeans in British territorial waters, was "solved," said a diplomatic source after a high-level meeting of EU leaders Friday.

This issue of fishing, which has not been settled in the treaty of withdrawal, should be the subject of a statement "in the minutes" of Sunday's summit, according to a diplomat.

This text will also address other issues on which the 27 pledge to be "vigilant" vis-à-vis London in the implementation of their agreements.

After 17 months of tense negotiations, the EU and the UK managed to agree Thursday on the "political declaration" that sets the framework for their post-Brexit relations, including trade. Last week, they had already reached an agreement on the "withdrawal treaty" of the United Kingdom, a document of nearly 600 pages.

This text settles the question of the bill that London will have to pay to the EU, without quantifying it, and provides for a controversial solution to avoid as a last resort the return of a physical border between Ireland and the British province of Ireland North.

This will make Northern Ireland "an economic colony of the EU", once again lambasted from Belfast on Saturday the former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, saying it was time "to report the iceberg in front of us ", in an explicit reference to the sinking of the Titanic.

If the summit makes it possible to ratify Sunday a global agreement, all will not be completed so far: the agreement of divorce will have to be ratified by the European Parliament and especially the British parliament before March 29, 2019, date envisaged of the departure of the Kingdom -United.