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Friday 23 November 2018

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez last night upped the ante in his bid to keep Gibraltar in the Single Market forever, tweeting he would “veto Brexit” (see below).

Keen followers of our drawn-out negotiation with the EU will recall the European Council’s original negotiating mandate to the Commission, signed off by the EU27 in April 2016, offered Spain an unnecessary and highly controversial veto over the Rock’s sovereignty. Paragraph twenty-four of the of the document states:

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.

 With this in mind, it’s a bit rich, to say the least for EU leaders and diplomats to lambast Sanchez as a menace to an orderly Brexit, this is a problem of their own making. They want him to back down, re-opening Michel Barnier’s triumphant deal will only unleash countless worms reluctant to be stuffed back into this wretched can.

No doubt Spain will have backed down by this weekend’s Council summit when both the withdrawal agreement and political declaration will be signed off. By then Sanchez will have collected the extra political capital he’s been seeking with his act of defiance (an all too rare gesture in this country it seems). But we’re far from out of the woods.

Sanchez wants Gibraltar fastened down in the divorce terms, but his contention really concerns the territory’s future status once Britain finally leaves the EU proper. It therefore needs to be considered in terms of the next negotiation which is even more fraught than the disaster we’ve seen unfold over the past eighteen months. With the publication of the 99% finalised political declaration yesterday, we were given a window into that nightmare.

The document is a minefield far more treacherous than the 2016 negotiating mandate. Under the withdrawal agreement, Britain will be treaty-bound to Remain in the Single Market. We will only be able to separate ourselves unilaterally by sacrificing Northern Ireland (see Julia-Hartley Brewer clip below). With the £39bn frittered we will have lost almost all our leverage, save for migration, fisheries and of course Gibraltar. The Spaniards will not use their veto on this occasion – Gibraltar’s future status is not does not concern the terms of divorce – the second round will be different. For more insight into the horror’s that await we thoroughly recommend Ambrose Evans Pritchard’s gruesome dissection of the declaration, which rather than obliterating Britain’s association with the Customs Union aims to build on, giving the ECJ wide ranging powers in the process.

The overall situation gets worse and worse, but perhaps that’s no bad thing. Faced with two arrangements, one short-term, the other permanent without a single redeeming feature the Cabinet “pizza club” of Brexiteers is looking to make a no deal landing as soft as possible.

According to the Telegraph, a rising number of Tory MPs, along with the likes of Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Jeremy Hunt view Theresa May’s deal as worse than no deal at all. With more than 80 MPs having already stated they will not vote for it, and the DUP too, the Commons motion set for early next month will surely fail. At that stage, we will be nearing the end of the Article 50 period and the emphasis will be on preparing for complete independence.

Not a bad thought to fuel that Friday feeling.

Also, check out this fascinating polling data from Lord Ashcroft. Theresa May has seen her support increase among Remainers.