Published: Wed, November 21, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

British, EU leaders meet as Brexit deadline looms

British, EU leaders meet as Brexit deadline looms

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is understood to have warned that she will boycott the summit unless a draft political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship is circulated to European capitals tomorrow.

Before leaving for Brussels, she will face opponents of the agreement Wednesday during the prime minister's weekly question-and-answer session in the House of Commons.

A source from the Spanish government said that it was "clear that the future of Gibraltar should be decided in bilateral negotiations between Britain and Spain, as has already been decided in the EU Council directives".

That draft accord so far has done little to win over lawmakers in Britain, with eurosceptics in May's Conservative Party and her allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party piling on pressure to try to force her to change tack.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Foreign Minister Josep Borrell say the withdrawal agreement and a political declaration that goes with it must make clear that negotiations on the future relationship between Britain and the European Union do not apply to Gibraltar.

Asked if she would back another referendum, like some of her fellow Remain-voting Tory MPs on the backbenches, Ms Rudd said: "I don't think we are looking at another referendum".

Crafting the tentative Brexit deal has taken a year and a half of hard talks.

However, there are signs of tension on the European Union side over the controversial agreement as well, with Spain saying it will not agree to the draft without clarity over how talks on the future status of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on Spain's south coast, should be handled. Rudd's comments contrast with those of May, who rules out a second plebiscite and says the alternative to her deal is crashing out without one. Articles appear on for a limited time.

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Earlier it was revealed that Germany's European Union ambassador had warned Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the blueprint for the future relationship must be published before Thursday afternoon or Mrs Merkel's attendance at the special Brexit summit would be called into question.

All sides in the Commons have warned of a "blind Brexit" in which the United Kingdom signs up to a series of legally-binding commitments in the draft withdrawal agreement, without similar guarantees over future trading arrangements.

But controversially, it says that if that deal is not agreed in time, Britain will adopt a "backstop" arrangement to keep open its land border with Ireland.

However, the joint political declaration on future relations - still being drafted - would only set out the shape of the UK's trading relationship with the remaining 27-nation bloc, without any legal commitments.

The BBC understands the intention is still to present a completed text to leaders at Sunday's summit but opinions differ over how easy it would be to solve the outstanding issues.

Spain maintains a claim to the tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, ceded to Britain in 1713.

"Spain does have a very real problem on Gibraltar", said another diplomat.

Amber Rudd, a pro-EU ally brought back into the Cabinet last week, made the same argument earlier on Wednesday.

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