Gibraltar deal clears way for Sunday Brexit summit
BRUSSELS, (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May will seal a Brexit package deal with European Union leaders in Brussels today after an agreement to reassure Madrid on a future say on Gibraltar lifted a threat of a Spanish veto.
The 27 EU national leaders will gather for an hour or so to formally endorse both a detailed treaty setting out the terms on which Britain will leave in an orderly manner on March 29 and a declaration outlining how Britain can keep close to its biggest market by following many EU rules after a 2-4-year transition.
They will then meet May briefly as she seeks momentum to get the package through the British parliament in the coming weeks in the teeth of fierce opposition from many of her own allies.
The Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes from Northern Ireland have helped May to govern since she lost her majority in a misjudged snap election last year, said it would try to block a Brexit deal it called “pitiful” - partly because it binds London to many EU rules it will no longer help set and partly as the DUP fears it could weaken the province’s ties to Britain.
No one knows what will happen if parliament rejects May’s plan, which she and EU leaders say is the best deal available.
Wrangling over how to keep open troubled Northern Ireland’s land border with the EU without creating disruptive customs barriers with the Irish Republic dogged much of the 18 months of talks before accords were struck this month. Another relic of the imperial past, Britain’s 300-year-old naval base on Spain’s southern coast, threatened to derail plans at the last minute.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez threatened to boycott Sunday’s meeting if he did not get amendments to the deal to ensure Madrid gets a say in Gibraltar’s future ties with the EU.
After officials wrangled through the night, he announced yesterday afternoon that he had such written pledges. Brussels officials said those essentially confirmed what most EU leaders had already understood - that Spain must have a binding say over how any future EU-UK trade pact might affect Gibraltar.
May will meet Sanchez for face-to-face talks during the summit, officials said.
May made a dramatic direct appeal to the British public to support her deal.
In an open letter to the nation, May said she would campaign “heart and soul” to get her Brexit deal through Britain’s parliament.
“It will be a deal that is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted “Leave” or “Remain,” she said.
Sunday newspapers said different factions in her own party were preparing alternative Brexit plans to keep Britain closer to the EU should her deal fail as most expect.
That included a plan being hatched by close allies such as finance minister Philip Hammond and work and pensions minister Amber Rudd, reported The Sunday Times without citing sources.
The Sunday Telegraph said there were plans on both sides of the English Channel for a “Plan B”. One such was a Norwaystyle relationship with Brussels, under which Britain would have a more certain “exit mechanism” from the EU’s rules but would be unable to end the free movement of workers from the bloc - the most politically contentious element of Brexit.
In her letter, May urged Britons to start a new era of political unity when it leaves the EU on March 29, 2019 and set aside the bitter fighting provoked by Brexit.
“I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of “Leave” and “Remain” for good and we come together again as one people,” she said.
“Parliament will have the chance to do that in a few weeks’ time when it has a meaningful vote on the deal.”