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Theresa May And Donald Tusk Agreed To Calm Things Down A Bit Over Gibraltar

It's not war, at least not yet.

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Justin Tallis / AFP / Getty Images

Downing Street has attempted to dampen down a row over Gibraltar after Theresa May met a top EU official in Downing Street to discuss the future of the UK's Brexit negotiations.

The European Council wants to give Spain a veto over how any final post-Brexit trade deal would affect the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, after the UK leaves the EU. Politicians from both the EU and UK have accused each other of using the territory as a bargaining chip in forthcoming negotiations.

Today's two-hour meeting between the prime minister and EU Commission president Donald Tusk was therefore hugely significant. It was the first time the two leaders had been in the same room since the UK began the Brexit process, with Tusk representing the interests of the remaining 27 EU member states.

Two different versions of how it played out have emerged: One came from EU officials close to Tusk, who insist the two leaders agreed to "lower tensions" over the disputed territory on the Spanish coast.

Another, issued by Theresa May's team, put a tougher spin on events, insisting the prime minister had told Tusk "the UK would seek the best possible deal for Gibraltar" and "there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people".

In reality the truth is somewhere in the middle, with the UK needing to keep EU officials onside at this early stage in negotiations without appearing to be weak on the issue of Gibraltan sovereignty, which has dominated pro-Brexit newspapers over the last week.

The Sun has a special Gibraltar section on its homepage. Risky naval encounters, troops parachuting, fights on plan… https://t.co/bG0te9V8NJ

Officials in other EU governments were reported to have been exasperated by the UK's language over Gibraltar. One German government official said they had initially been understanding of the UK's position after reading May's letter invoking Article 50 but were unhappy when they read British newspapers.

The row began when May failed to mention Gibraltar in the Article 50 letter, which formally started the Brexit process last month. When Tusk replied two days later, he included a line implying Spain would be able to block the inclusion of Gibraltar in any future EU–UK trade deal, sparking a media and political dispute.

Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty Images

"Both leaders agreed that the tone of discussions had been positive on both sides, and agreed that they would seek to remain in close touch as the negotiations progressed," said a Downing Street spokesperson.

"With the UK also remaining a full and engaged member of the EU for the next two years, the PM and Donald Tusk also discussed the agenda for the next EU Council meeting."

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Alberto Nardelli at alberto.nardelli@buzzfeed.com.

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