Spain’s snap election threatens Brexit deal talks with UK over Gibraltar

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On Monday, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez brought forward a national election expected in December to July 23 after the conservative Popular Party, or PP, and far-right Vox movement dramatically increased their vote share in Sunday’s local and regional elections.

Sanchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, known by the Spanish acronym PSOE, has led a minority central government with United We Can since 2019, but internal arguments with his coalition partners have increasingly dominated headlines. United We Can’s leadership is also engaged in a separate feud with Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, who has started her own political movement, Sumar.

While some will see a return to the two-party politics that dominated Spain until United We Can burst onto the scene, others insist that Spain’s regional parties and the far right are still powerful enough to keep any PP or PSOE government in check without United We Can.

Voters will also be seeing Vox call the shots with the nominally moderate PP in real time in the next few weeks, and may opt to vote for the Socialists to keep Vox from expanding their power in parliament.

There are several inherent complications with the new date, however. A late July election is unprecedented in a southern European country like Spain, when many will be on vacation away from their registered voting address and when political parties will be right in the middle of negotiating alliances sprung from the local elections.

The government will also need to deal with Spain taking over the rotating European Union presidency on July 1, and its active negotiations with the United Kingdom on a post-Brexit deal for the British enclave of Gibraltar.

On the latter, Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo said it is “very unlikely before the results of the Spanish general election on the 23rd of July”.

Speaking to Gibraltar Today or Radio Gibraltar, he said that the EU Commission is not expected to agree to a treaty with the UK without the approval of the incoming Spanish government.

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He also lamented a viable offer had so far been made in the negotiations between Britain and Spain, arguing a deal would have already been agreed otherwise.

On Brexit talks, the leader of Together Gibraltar, Marlene Hassan Nahon, also warned that the possibility of a far right influenced ministry in Spain could jeopardise negotiations.

The mayor of the La Linea, Juan Franco, also expressed concerns.

Echoing Picardo’s comments, he told GBC that it will be impossible to secure a deal before the elections.

He said “the idea is to keep working”.

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While a free trade deal was struck between Britain and Brussels in 2020, Gibraltar’s own future has been the subject of drawn-out negotiations with little progress.

Madrid pushed to seize more control over the Rock by putting forward plans to eradicate border posts between Gibraltar and Spain.

The proposals would see the Rock effectively become a part of the EU’s Schengen zone that allows for free movement across the continent.

In return, Spain would take control of the territory’s borders.

Madrid continues to claim it has ownership of Gibraltar despite ceding it to Britain in 1713.

Spain has been repeatedly accused of attempting to use Brexit to wrestle control of the small 2.6 square mile area, despite the majority of Gibraltar residents supporting remaining under the jurisdiction of the UK.

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