Fears Spain might derail deal allayed by 'promise'
Spanish threats to derail the Brexit deal at the last minute were subsiding last night.
The EU looks set to agree a "statement of clarification" which will acknowledge Spain should have a say in the future of Gibraltar once the UK leaves the EU.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will be back in Brussels today for further meetings with head of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
It is now expected their conversation will clear the way for a special summit of EU leaders, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, tomorrow at which the draft Withdrawal Agreement will be approved.
Spain had sought last-minute changes to the deal and the accompanying declaration on the future relationship.
They wanted a clear statement that any decisions about Gibraltar, a rocky, peninsular British overseas territory that Spain claims as its own, would only be taken together with Madrid.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was threatening to veto the Brexit deal unless his demands were met.
There is a view in Spain their concerns were side-lined as every effort was put into resolving the Irish question.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said yesterday that the Government became familiar with the "Spanish concerns" at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday.
However, he said there was a "strong consensus in the room from other countries that while we want to see the Spanish concerns resolved before Sunday, that shouldn't involve changing the text of the Withdrawal Treaty".
"Once that text changes, well then lots of people will look for changes to the text. So I don't think you'll see change to the Withdrawal Agreement text."
Instead, Mr Coveney backed the idea of a "statement of clarification" which, while not legally binding, may be enough to appease the Spanish government.
And Spain's junior minister for the European Union, Luis Marco Aguiriano, indicated last night British authorities were prepared to give Madrid prior approval on matters relating to Gibraltar.
He told a Spanish news agency: "We have a promise, a commitment, from the British government saying they are ready to guarantee that they will go along with the clarification we have requested."
However, the minister stopped short of removing the veto threat as he hadn't seen the written version of the British promise.
Spain doesn't have a veto as the deal can be approved by a super-majority of 20 member states.
In Germany, a government spokesman was confident a solution would be found in time for Sunday's summit.
Meanwhile, Mrs May is continuing to try to sell the deal to the British public.
She said it could not be rewritten, despite the claims of Brexiteers.
In a BBC phone-in, Mrs May insisted there was no mood on the EU side for fresh concessions.
"If we were to go back to the European Union and say 'people didn't like that deal, can we have another one?', I don't think they are going to come to us and say 'We will give you a better deal'.
"This is the deal that I think works for the UK," she said.