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These 3 issues could still derail Theresa May’s Brexit deal

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2018 11 19T121258Z_1040726573_RC1C25654600_RTRMADP_3_BRITAIN EU.JPG
Britain’s
Prime Minister Theresa May replies to questions after speaking at
the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference
in London, Britain, November 19, 2018.

Reuters / Toby Melville

  • Theresa May heads to Brussels on Wednesday evening in a
    frantic attempt to wrap up the final details of her Brexit
    deal.
  • Negotiators are trying to finalise a document which
    lays out aspirations for the future UK-EU relationship, but
    it’s proving more difficult than expected.
  • A planned EU summit on Sunday could be cancelled
    because both sides still haven’t reached a breakthrough on
    crucial future relationship issues like fishing and Gibraltar,
    according to reports.

LONDON — Theresa May will head to Brussels for the second time
this week Saturday with the hope of winning agreement for the
final text of her Brexit deal. Negotiators have already agreed on
the 585-page text of the divorce deal, formally called the
Withdrawal Agreement, which covers thorny issues like the size of
the UK’s exit payment and the Irish backstop mechanism.

Attention is now on wrapping up the final text of the so-called
political declaration, a much shorter document which will detail
the UK and EU’s aspirations for their future relationship. Unlike
the withdrawal deal, it won’t be legally binding but it will act
as an important statement of intent from both sides.

However, some issues which the political declaration covers are
proving to be more difficult to resolve than negotiators had
anticipated, with
reports
on Wednesday afternoon that a planned EU summit for
Sunday could be cancelled due to a lack of progress on issues
connected to the UK’s future relationship.

That could spell disaster for Theresa May. She had hoped to wrap
up all details of the deal so that EU leaders could sign off her
deal at the planned summit on Sunday. Here are the key issues
which are holding back talks.

1. Gibraltar


The Rock of Gibraltar stands behind La Linea de la Concepcion city on April 4, 2017 in Spain. Tensions have risen over Brexit negotiations for the Rock of Gibraltar.
The
Rock of Gibraltar stands behind La Linea de la Concepcion city on
April 4, 2017 in Spain. Tensions have risen over Brexit
negotiations for the Rock of Gibraltar.

Getty / Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

The tiny territory of Gibraltar poses an outsized problem
for Brexit negotiators. The rocky outpost on the southern tip of
Spain has been a British territory for three centuries, and its
service-based economy relies heavily on the free flow of workers
across the border from Spain, which account for around half its
workforce.

Gibraltar is a self-governing territory with 34,000
residents, most of whom are British citizens and 97% of whom
voted to remain in the European Union in 2016. Equally, Gibraltar
is physically connected to Spain and mainland Europe and has
close links with Spain, which frequently challenges the UK’s
legal claim to the territory.

The UK would be happy enough not to discuss the future of
detail in too much detail in the political declaration. But
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said Spain will reject
the draft Brexit deal without a clarification of the text on the
status of Gibraltar. 

“As things stand today if there are no changes regarding
Gibraltar, Spain will vote no on Brexit,” said Sánchez on
Tuesday.

Article 184 of the draft Brexit deal says the UK and EU
will “negotiate rapidly the agreements governing their future
relationship” during the transition period from March next year.
But Spain wants much more clarity than that and insists it should
be able to negotiate the future of Gibraltar bilaterally with the
UK. 

A European Commission spokesperson this week
re-stated the EU’s pledge that no Brexit agreement between the UK
and EU could apply to Gibraltar without the agreement of Spain
and the UK. It’s a big issue which needs to be resolved
quickly.

2. Fishing


fishing for leave
Fishing boats protest
Getty

Fishing is a highly contested area between the UK and EU. Britain
wants the political declaration to declare that Britain is an
“independent coastal state” which will negotiate EU access to its
waters on an annual basis. 

However, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium want the
language to state that continuing current arrangements
for fishing access will be a precondition of a full UK-EU trade
deal across all sectors. Quota shares of fish are currently
allocated according to a formula, to the anger of British
fisherman who say that fishing vessels from elsewhere in the
EU have too much access to British waters. 

3. Future tradeThe European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier looks on at the start of the EU Commission's weekly college meeting in Brussels, Belgium, November 21, 2018The
European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier looks on
at the start of the EU Commission’s weekly college meeting in
Brussels, Belgium, November 21, 2018
Reuters / Francois Walschaerts

Above all, Theresa May sees the political declaration as an
essential tool in the bid to sell her Brexit deal to sceptical
Tory MPs. 

To that end, she wants to include some particularly ambitious
language on the future trade relationship. That provision could,
she calculates, persuade her colleagues that the controversial
“backstop” plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland will never be
needed.

But countries including Germany, France and other close trading
partners of the UK oppose any language which will raise false
hopes that the UK could negotiate single market membership for
goods,
the Financial Times reported

The EU has repeatedly rejected such proposals as seeking to
“cherry pick” elements of the single market as part of May’s
so-called Chequers plan for leaving the EU. They will resist any
attempt by May to leave the door open for this to go ahead in
future talks.

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