Brexit barrier lifted as EU summit set to back May’s divorce deal
Key gathering of EU27 will definitely proceed in morning after Spain lifts objections
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker welcomes British prime minister Theresa May at the commission the day before a summit of the European Council on Brexit in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Theresa May swept in to Brussels tonight for a pre-summit meeting with Commission President Jean Claude Juncker as Spain lifted its threatened veto of the Brexit agreement. The night’s meeting was described by the commission as constructive. “We are on course for tomorrow,” a spokesman tweeted.
The summit will now definitely proceed tomorrow morning and will unanimously approve both the divorce deal, the Withdrawal Agreement, and a political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and UK.
The European Council will initially be a gathering of the 27 remainer states’ leaders followed by one with Ms May, in the words of Council President Donald Tusk, to “jointly consider the next steps”. The meetings are expected to be over before lunchtime.
Ireland will be represented by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee.
Last-minute assurances from the UK and the EU 27 on Gibraltar, reaffirming Spain’s right to a veto on future EU talks impinging on the British colony, were being claimed by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez as a major diplomatic coup. He insisted the UK would now have to open talks on “joint sovereignty” of Gibraltar, over which Spain has had a claim since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
A British spokesman denied the statement in a letter to the Spanish government represented a climbdown on its part. The text simply asserts that there are no implications in the Withdrawal Agreement on the “territorial scope” of agreements between the EU and the UK to be agreed by the summit this morning. Brussels sources said the declarations merely reiterated the status quo.
Mr Sanchez, who faces strong domestic political pressures over Gibraltar and local elections next week, was keen, however, to big it up: “Once the UK has left the EU, Gibraltar’s political, legal and even geographic relationship with the EU will go through Spain …
“Spain will be a fundamental pillar of the relationship between Gibraltar and the EU as a whole,” he said.
“When it comes to the future political declaration, the European Council and the European Commission have backed Spain’s position, and backed it as never before.
“In these fundamental future negotiations, we’re going to have to talk about joint sovereignty and many other things with the UK.”
Ms May’s arrived at 6pm local time for the meeting with Mr Juncker. She then met Mr Tusk and a meeting with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani was also mooted.
In his traditional letter inviting EU leaders to attend the summit and discussing its agenda, Mr Tusk urged them to endorse both documents. He said they had clearly achieved the main objectives set out in the negotiators’ mandate, including the prevention of a hard border in Ireland.
Mr Juncker then met for dinner with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to discuss the commission’s warning that it will impose sanctions on Rome unless the government substantially revises its budget.