A last-minute deal to meet Madrid’s demands on possible talks about the future of Gibraltar has been reached between the U.K. and Spanish governments, clearing the way for a European Union summit on a proposed Brexit deal to go forward on November 25.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on November 24 stepped back from his threat of an effective veto on the deal after Britain and EU officials provided written guarantees on the issue of possible Gibraltar talks in the future.
"We have received sufficient guarantees to be able to reach a solution to a conflict that has lasted more than 300 years between the United Kingdom and Spain," Sanchez told reporters after talks on the issued dragged through the night in Brussels.
The breakthrough came after the British government wrote to the European Council to confirm that it would not interpret its withdrawal treaty as meaning that a future EU-U.K. trade treaty would automatically apply to Gibraltar.
British Prime Minister Theresa May met later on November 24 with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk and received assurances that the withdrawal treaty is likely to be endorsed by all EU leaders at the November 25 summit in Brussels.
Juncker's spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, tweeted after that meeting, "We are on track for tomorrow."
The developments clear the way for EU member states early on November 25 to approve a declaration specifically excluding Gibraltar from future EU-U.K. treaties and leaving open the possibility that Britain could negotiate with Madrid in the future on deals for Gibraltar.
The EU leaders would then go into a formal summit meeting to vote on the negotiated treaty that sets terms for an orderly British withdrawal from the EU on March 29, 2019.
Britain captured Gibraltar, a 6.7-square-kilometer area at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, during a war with Spain more than 300 years ago.
Now considered a British overseas territory, Gibraltar is home to a historically strategic British naval base and about 30,000 residents.
But Spain asserts an irredentist claim to Gibraltar and wants a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom over its sovereignty.
Britain has said it "will never enter an agreement" on Gibraltar’s sovereignty unless the government and the people of Gibraltar itself also agree. No political party or pressure group in Gibraltar supports union with Spain.
On November 25, after just more than an hour of talks among themselves, EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to gather at about 11 a.m. to share two key documents with the British prime minister.
One is a negotiated treaty setting terms for an orderly British withdrawal from the EU on March 29.
The other is an outline of how Britain can keep close to its biggest market by following some EU rules after a status-quo transition period set out in the treaty ends in two to four years.
Even if all 27 other EU countries agree on the Brexit deal that Brussels has negotiated with the British government, May still has to win approval for the deal in the British Parliament.
Passage by Parliament remains uncertain amid threats to vote down the deal by some of May’s own Conservative Party allies, by members of the opposition Labour Party, and by the Northern Irish political party that May’s minority government relies on for support in parliament.