Britain's May seeks to cut deal on future EU ties in Brussels
BRUSSELS, Nov 21 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa
May arrives in Brussels on Wednesday to attempt to agree a
blueprint of Britain's post-Brexit ties with the European Union,
which the bloc's diplomats said was being held up by
disagreements over Gibraltar, fisheries and trade.
All EU leaders are due to meet on Sunday to rubber-stamp the
Brexit deal, consisting of Britain's withdrawal agreement and an
outline of the two sides' new relationship after Britain exits
The fate of the withdrawal accord is uncertain. British
lawmakers are stepping up a fight over the terms of departure,
with some trying to open the way for the country to change
While the EU is trying to discourage Britain from any
renegotiation of the nearly 600 pages of dense legal text that
forms the divorce deal, some of the remaining 27 member states
also have issues with it.
Attempting to address those issues in ongoing talks on the
document that will outline future ties, national EU envoys of
the 27 states met on Brussels in Tuesday.
"Still some work is needed on three aspects: fish, goods and
Gibraltar," one diplomat said of the meeting, held on the eve of
May's talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU's
executive. "Juncker and May will try to sort it out tomorrow."
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday threatened
to vote against the overall Brexit accord on Sunday unless it
makes clear that the future of the disputed British territory of
Gibraltar would be settled through direct talks between Madrid
"Spain does have a very real problem on Gibraltar," said
Many in the EU's political hub Brussels said they thought
Sanchez was trying to score points with voters at home before a
looming domestic election.
They believed the issue could be solved by the leaders and
warned Madrid not to push so far as to put the whole Brexit
agreement at risk.
"We are following the latest developments with growing
concern," said a third EU diplomat after Madrid said it would
want changes to the already-negotiated divorce deal.
"No one wants to reopen the withdrawal agreement. That would
lead to the crumbling away of the whole Brexit agreement and
lead us all into no-man's land."
Within the EU, a withdrawal treaty is adopted by qualified
majority and not unanimity, so formally a single state like
Spain cannot block it. However, EU leaders are seeking unanimity
on the deal.
With the fate of the tentative Brexit agreement still far
from clear, both sides have also been advancing their
contingency plans for the most damaging scenario under which
Britain would crash out of the EU with no deal in place.
Another diplomat who took part in Tuesday's meeting said
Britain was seeking an easy flow of goods post-Brexit that was
too close to that enjoyed by bloc members only.
"The UK wants free movement of goods, which they won't get
because that's back to discussing partial access to the single
market, which we don't do," the person said.
In addition, France has called for more guarantees on future
access to Britain's rich fishing waters, which London wants to
keep firmly under control after Brexit.
EU members with pending issues to be resolved are seeking to
either address them through the blueprint that is now being
negotiated, or via separate EU statements that would not
formally be part of the deal with Britain. France has backed
such extra declarations, while Germany opposed them, saying the
focus should be on finalising the outline of the future EU-UK
Following May's meeting with Juncker, EU envoys will meet to
discuss the approximately 20-page blueprint on Thursday, and
then the leaders' negotiators will look at it again at a meeting
scheduled on Friday, two days before the summit.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Alastair Macdonald, Jan
Strupczewski, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)
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