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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Spain threatens to veto Brexit deal over Gibraltar

May refuses to issue resign ultimatum as she promotes Brussels agreement

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has threatened to vote down the UK's Brexit deal. EPA/JUANJO MARTIN
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has threatened to vote down the UK's Brexit deal. EPA/JUANJO MARTIN

Spain has threatened to vote down Britain’s Brexit deal as embattled Prime Minister Theresa May refused to say she would quit if the deal were rejected by British MPs

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in an overnight tweet that Spain was not satisfied with the status of Gibraltar, which Britain has sovereignty over. "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.

The EU’s 27 member states are set to vote on the deal published by Mrs May’s government last week in a special summit in Brussels on Sunday. Though Spain does not hold a veto, Madrid’s opposition would shatter the member states’ unanimity in negotiations, which has been a key asset for Brussels.

Gibraltar has been a major thorn in Anglo-Spanish relations for years. It voted to remain under British sovereignty by some 98% in a referendum held in 2002.

Spain want any further negotiations, or changes in the status of Gibraltar, to take place only following direct talks between London and Madrid.

The pushback came as Theresa May refused to say in a radio interview that she would resign if the deal was rejected by parliament, claiming “it’s not about me”. Yet it remains unclear how she might get it through parliament.

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She added that passage of the final deal was "within our grasp".

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, is set to speak at the annual conference of the small Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) in Belfast on Saturday in an attempt to win round its rebellious leadership. The party’s 10 votes have propped up Mrs May’s minority government since last year’s general election.

The DUP have fired several warning shots that since the deal’s publication last week, indicating their unhappiness with it, and adding that the Prime Minister hadn’t listened to them.

Yet, opposition to the deal comes not only from Northern Irish partners, but also from within her own party after it was revealed that as many as half of her MPs are prepared to vote against her deal, with some saying it amounts to a “total surrender to the European Union”.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, a dedicated Brexiteer, claimed that the 585-page deal would be even worse than staying in the European Union.

"I'm not going to advocate staying in the EU.

"But, if you just presented me terms, this deal or EU membership, because we would effectively be bound by the same rules but without the control or voice over them, yes, I think this would be even worse than that," he said.