Spain accuses UK of using 'treachery and the cover of darkness' in drafting Brexit deal

Gibraltar continues to be a sticking point in reaching agreement on the terms of Brexit. Credit: PA

After a week of ‘finalising’, it has more than tripled in size from its original seven pages.

The 26-page Political Declaration is a climbing frame of compromise - designed to be suitably vague and aspirational because it’s the first step on another long Brexit negotiation journey.

Is it perfect? No. Is it clear? No. It’s an effort to please everyone around the table and that rarely works.

Downing Street can walk away with an end to free movement, ease of trade in the future, and it can claim to have ended the common agricultural and fishing policies.

The EU sources I spoke to on Thursday say the deal is broadly acceptable. “No surprises” was one comment. One diplomat said that on fishing while there was no guarantee of access to British waters, as set out in their own negotiation guidelines, on the other hand there wasn’t anything to say they wouldn’t be allowed to strike a deal that allows EU fleets into our waters.

The Government vowed to 'take back control' of UK fishing waters after Brexit. Credit: PA

The level playing field demands made by France and Germany, the anti-cherry picking measures, which are aimed at stopping the UK undercutting EU states after it leaves, are in the document. However, a promise to give a better deal on services is also there.

Read through the declaration and you can see the trail of concessions on both sides.

The text of the document needed to be finished on Thursday morning if there was any hope of Sunday’s summit going ahead.

Talks went on late into the night, and by 9.45am on Thursday the "stabilised" text was sent from the Commission to the Council where ambassadors were due to meet at 11.

At that meeting it was clear that diplomatic patience had run out. The German ambassador told his counterparts from the other member states that “we have to put a lid on this pot” or Angela Merkel would not attend Sunday’s summit. The time for negotiations was finally over.

The Brexit package of deals is still subject to endorsement and approval by the member states and there are glaring issues yet to be resolved. On Thursday the EU Commission spokesman said: “I can confirm the question of Gibraltar and the issues of fisheries still need to be dealt with." The ball is now in the Member States' courts.

To be clear Spain’s complaint is about an article in the Withdrawal Agreement, the 585 page, legal document.

The Spanish accuse Britain of sneaking in Article 184, which says the UK and EU will work with best endeavour to get a future trade deal. Spain thinks that ignores the need for any deal on Gibraltar being subject to bi-lateral agreement between Spain and the UK.

On Thursday the Spanish accused the British of using “treachery and the cover of darkness” to get that article into the Agreement behind their backs.

Despite the diplomatic pressure from Germany and the threat of Angela Merkel not turning up, Spain is still unhappy over Gibraltar.

Credit: PA

On Thursday afternoon in the Spanish parliament, the MEP Marco Aguiriano, said that negotiations are continuing. He repeated that Spain won’t give its consent to the Brexit agreement on Sunday if they don’t receive guarantees that any agreement between UK and EU won’t apply to Gibraltar unless Spain gives its consent.

He didn’t clearly explain how. He spoke of the possibility of stopping the clock, convening another European Council or getting a written legal guarantee from the EU Council.

That last demand would suggest that they’re being talked down by the EU, and indeed by Theresa May, who was “encouraged” by the EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to speak to Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez last night.

On Thursday Mrs May said: “Last night I spoke to the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and I am confident that on Sunday we will be able to agree a deal that delivers for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar.”

The deals are done but it’s not just the Brexiters who are unhappy with the text.