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Spain threatens to derail Brexit deal over Gibraltar

Spain warned Monday it could yet derail the Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels if it does not guarantee Madrid's veto over Gibraltar's future status.

Spain threatens to derail Brexit deal over Gibraltar
Photo: AFP

Madrid has a long-standing claim on Gibraltar, which was ceded to the British crown in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, that predates the Brexit negotiations.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is due to sign a treaty with European Union leaders to leave the bloc on Sunday, if Spain does not stand in the way.   

But Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell warned on Monday after a meeting of EU ministers that the draft deal does not spell out how Gibraltar should be handled.

READ ALSO: Gibraltar welcomes Brexit deal as 'far better than crashing out with no-deal’

He said the text does not make it clear that future negotiations on ties between Brussels and post-Brexit Britain are separate from the Gibraltar issue.   

“Future negotiations on Gibraltar are separate negotiations. And that is what needs to be made clear,” Borrell said.   

“Until it is clear … we will not be able to give our agreement”, he warned.

According to Article 184 of the draft divorce deal, “the EU and the United Kingdom shall make every effort, in good faith and with full respect for their respective legal systems, to adopt the measures necessary to negotiate rapidly the agreements governing their future relationship.”

These agreements will be negotiated between Brexit day on March 29th and December 2020 — extendable once — and will enter into force at the end of the period.

But Spain wants to retain what it sees as its right to negotiate the future on Gibraltar with Britain on a bilateral basis, giving it an effective veto.   

Although the legal service of the EU Council has tried to reassure Spain that the text does not preclude this, Madrid is seeking further clarification.   

“Until we have the future declaration and we know what it says, whether we agree or not, we are not going to approve the withdrawal agreement either,” Borrell said.

In London, May's spokesman said: “The draft withdrawal agreement agreed last week covers Gibraltar.    

“The PM has been clear that we will not exclude Gibraltar, and the other overseas territories and the crown dependences from our negotiations on the future relationship. We will get a deal that works for the whole UK family.”

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the position adopted by Madrid “does little to build mutual confidence and trust going forward.”

Over the weekend, European diplomats said they did not expect Spain's concerns to derail the agreement.

 

 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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