Gibraltar is covered by the whole withdrawal agreement and by the implementation period, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of a meeting with European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, May said “the U.K.’s position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar has not changed and will not change.”
“I am proud that Gibraltar is British and I will always stand by Gibraltar,” May said.
May’s remarks came following an earlier statement by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that he will back the Brexit deal in the emergency summit due tomorrow.
May said the U.K. will be negotiating with the EU on behalf of Gibraltar.
Sanchez had been demanding clarity around the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement in relation to Gibraltar’s future but announced he has reached an agreement with the EU and the U.K.
Spain demands that future EU talks with the U.K. do not cover Gibraltar, and it wants to have the final say over any future arrangements in that regard.
“As soon as the U.K. leaves the EU, the political, legal and even geographic relationship between Gibraltar and the EU will go through Spain,” said Sanchez in a televised speech.
Sanchez previously said Spain would vote against the Political Declaration -- a document expected to signed off during Sunday's summit -- as it is not happy with the clause regarding Gibraltar’s future relations with the EU.
Gibraltar – a British overseas territory with a population of around 30,000 – was ceded to Britain by Spain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, but Spanish claims over the region continued. In referenda in 1967 and 2002, the Rock’s public widely rejected proposals for it to be governed by Madrid.
Spain imposed a blockade on the region from 1968 until 1985 – a year before it joined the EU – cutting off access to the land border and communication for Gibraltarians.
“We have taken a decisive step towards resolving a conflict that has lasted more than 300 years between the U.K. and Spain,” said Sanchez, calling Gibraltar a territory that is yet to be decolonized.
The vast majority of those living in Gibraltar consider themselves British. In a 2002 referendum on whether Spain or the UK should share sovereignty over the territory, 98.5 percent voted to remain under British rule.
“No declarations agreed by the remaining EU 27 or the European Institutions will ever change the undiluted British sovereignty or security of Gibraltar,” tweeted Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, in response to Sanchez’s speech on Saturday.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 95.9 percent of voters in Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU.
The emergency Brexit summit will be held in Brussels on Sunday.
The U.K. is set to leave the bloc in March 2019.