SLOWLY but surely Spain is laying its cards on the table as Britain prepares to leave the EU. With almost a million British citizens living in the country, and a centuries-old dispute over Gibraltar, Spain is perhaps the UK’s most intimately connected European partner, and the country with the most sway over key elements of the divorce settlement.
If the words of foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo are anything to go by, Spain intends to levy all the pressure it can during negotiations to secure itself a favourable outcome.
Speaking at a conference in Alicante, where he described euro-scepticism as “regressive”, Margallo said that Britain would have to pay for all the healthcare costs of its citizens living in Spain. He also poured cold water on the idea that Britain might secure a Canada-style waiver scheme absolving it of 99 per cent of healthcare tariffs.
On Gibraltar Margallo froze out Boris Johnson by sending every other foreign minister in the EU a letter urging them to exclude the issue from wider Brexit talks, allowing it to be handled bilaterally.
Spain can then use the Rock as a bargaining chip in direct talks with the UK, and threaten to veto any Brexit deal favourable to British interests, unless it makes some headway with its Gibraltar aspirations.