Spanish PM on Brexit: “We want a deal, but it no longer depends on us”

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Following Thursday’s key European Council meeting, Pedro Sánchez underscores that the EU has gone as far as it can to deal with the ongoing crisis.

Spain has been taking a hard line on Brexit since November, when disagreements emerged over the wording of an article of the UK Withdrawal Agreement that could affect Gibraltar, the disputed British Overseas Territory in the south of the Iberian Peninsula.

On Thursday, after emerging from a European Council summit in Brussels that discussed the deadline for Britain’s departure from the European Union, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez raised the tone a notch, aligning himself with Brexit hardliner Emmanuel Macron of France.

Visibly exhausted, Sánchez said that the EU has gone as far as it can and that the ball is now in the British parliament’s court: if members of parliament reject the deal, there will be a disorderly exit and the responsibility will lie with them.

“We are at a critical moment in European construction. History will judge the events of the coming weeks,” said Sánchez, of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). “Spanish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Spain must know that the the Spanish government is ready for a disorderly exit.”

Spain, like other EU members, would prefer an orderly departure, but Sánchez made it clear that all scenarios are being contemplated. The new key date is April 12, when European Parliament elections will be called and the UK will have to decide whether to participate in these polls or not.

“We have to safeguard the EU’s legal safety, with or without the UK’s participation in the elections, and we need to protect institutions like the European Parliament,” said Sánchez. Spaniards living in Britain will have the right to vote in the European elections.

Spanish sources familiar with the EU Council meeting reported that there had been very tough talks on Thursday, during which British PM Theresa May heard criticism and a series of demands to explain what could happen in the House of Commons next week. May is reported to have given evasive answers and offered no guarantees.

After she left, the meeting ran on much longer than expected, as leaders discussed what options to offer the UK. In remarks following the meeting, EU Council President Donald Tusk explained that the UK is being given two deadlines for two different scenarios.

“In the first scenario, that is, if the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until May 22. In the second scenario, that is, if the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons next week, the European Council agrees to an extension until April 12, while expecting the United Kingdom to indicate a way forward.”

Spanish sources insisted that Sánchez does not want the UK to reach a cliff-edge situation, but noted that the margin for maneuver is shrinking. “We have had a constructive attitude, we wanted to safeguard the unity of the EU,” said the Spanish PM.