Madrid, March 31 (IANS) The European Union has put the future of Gibraltar at stake in the coming Brexit negotiations, effectively backing Spain in its centuries-old dispute with the UK over the British overseas territory.
A Brexit deal will not automatically apply to Gibraltar and could be vetoed by Spain, according to the EU's draft guidelines for the UK's exit negotiations, reported the Independent on Friday.
After lobbying from Spanish diplomats, a clause has been inserted in the EU's draft Brexit negotiating guidelines that appears to allow Spain to exclude Gibraltar from any transitional single market access arrangement or future trade deal with the UK if it is not satisfied with the status of the territory.
It came as Donald Tusk, the European Council President, set out the EU's nine-page draft negotiating position, making clear Britain must make significant progress with its divorce from Europe before any talks on future trade terms begin.
The guidelines add: "After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the UK," said the report.
It means issues relating to the territory will have to be solved bilaterally between Downing Street's negotiating team and Madrid and will likely become a contentious point throughout the two-year timeframe to negotiate Britain's exit deal, the daily said.
The territory, situated on Spain's southern tip, has been in British hands for over 300 years and residents there voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining within the EU at the referendum last June by 96 per cent.
The draft guidelines also make clear the EU is willing to consider a "transitional" deal after Brexit and is also prepared for talks to collapse.
Tusk's document said: "In these negotiations the Union will act as one. It will be constructive throughout and will strive to find an agreement. This is in the best interest of both sides.
"The Union will work hard to achieve that outcome, but it will prepare itself to be able to handle the situation also if the negotiations were to fail," it further said.