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Theresa May: “Our message to Gibraltar is clear, we will always stand by you”

British prime minister denies that she has caved in to Spain in negotiations over the British Overseas Territory after Brexit

British PM Theresa May on Monday.
British PM Theresa May on Monday. AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May has denied she ceded to Spanish demands over Gibraltar in the negotiations over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, a process commonly referred to as Brexit.

Speaking to the House of Commons on Monday, May said: “We are proud that Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change.”

In a desperate bid to get her disastrous deal across the line, May appears to have cast the people of Gibraltar aside

MP Tom Brake

Her comments came after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the political agreement reached over Gibraltar – a disputed British Overseas Territory located in the south of the Iberian peninsula and ceded to Great Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht – was a clear victory for Spain.

“With Brexit we all lose, especially the United Kingdom, but when it comes to Gibraltar, Spain wins,” Sánchez said on Sunday after the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified by EU leaders in Brussels.

On Saturday, Sánchez secured a joint declaration from the European Council and European Commission that guarantees that the political, legal and even geographical relationship of Gibraltar with the EU will “pass through Spain” after Brexit.

PM Pedro Sánchez says Spain has scored a victory over the issue of Gibraltar.
PM Pedro Sánchez says Spain has scored a victory over the issue of Gibraltar. Reuters

May was heavily criticized for agreeing to the declaration, with her opponents arguing she had “caved in” to Spain.

“The prime minister has caved in once again. In a desperate bid to get her disastrous deal across the line, May appears to have cast the people of Gibraltar aside,” said member of parliament Tom Brake from the Liberal Democrats.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, said the last-minute agreement had allowed Spain “to have a role” in the decisions that affect the future of “The Rock,” as Gibraltar is known.

But May maintains she has not abandoned the people of Gibraltar.

“We have ensured that Gibraltar is covered by the whole Withdrawal Agreement and by the Implementation Period. And for the future partnership, the UK government will be negotiating for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar,” she told the British parliament.

We are proud that Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change

PM Theresa May

May also thanked Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo “for his statesmanship in these negotiations.”

“As Fabian Picardo said this weekend and I quote, ‘Every aspect of the response of the United Kingdom was agreed with the government of Gibraltar … Most importantly, the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement has not been changed. That is what the Spanish government repeatedly sought but they have not achieved that. The United Kingdom has not let us down.’”

May ended her speech with the following declaration: “Our message to the people of Gibraltar is clear, we will always stand by you, we are proud that Gibraltar is British and our position on sovereignty has not and will not change.”

The conservative press has backed the British prime minister and attacked Spain for “grandstanding.” In an article headlined: “Spain faces backlash after last-minute threat to sabotage Brexit deal over Gibraltar,” UK daily The Telegraph maintained that EU diplomats were furious with Spain for threatening to veto the Withdrawal Agreement. One anonymous source told the newspaper: “It is really outrageous. It is trying to turn back history for more than 300 years. There is no scrap of justification.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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