DAVID GROSSMAN: The very British colony of Gibraltar
- it's home to several hundred wild apes but more importantly a community
passionately defensive of their right to be British. Just over two square
miles of territory, this rock on the southern coast of Spain has somehow
managed to cast its shadow over the whole of Europe. Spain and Britain
have been locked in a dispute over its sovereignty for three centuries.
For years the Rock of
Gibraltar stood as a symbol of the British Empire - resolute and immovable.
But now that empire has passed into history, its status in the eyes of
London is diminished into that of a pebble in the shoe of its diplomatic
relations, particularly with Spain. Now Tony Blair and his Spanish counterpart
have pledged to resolve the dispute over Gibraltar by the summer, but for
the thirty thousand people who live here, who are bitterly opposed to any
change to their sovereignty, that sounds like a stitch up and a betrayal.
PETER CARUANA: We think that the United
Kingdom has got no right whatever to compromise our rights as a colonial
people, to decide our own future, by going off to hatch bilateral deals
PETER HAIN MP: We're never going to hand
Gibraltar over to Spain. Full stop, end of story. What we're trying to
do is establish a modern sustainable stable status for Gibraltar that gives
Gibraltarians security, ends this dispute, and allows us all to move forward
to the benefit of Spain, to the benefit of Gibraltar, to the benefit of
GROSSMAN: Showing their colours
is something Gibraltarians are very good at. In March almost the whole
population joined in protest at Britain's plans to do a deal with Spain
to share sovereignty of the rock. When Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary,
visited last week the entire police force struggled to make sure he got
through the streets in one piece. The British Government insists that
although exactly what joint sovereignty would mean in practice has yet
to be agreed with Spain, the population of Gibraltar have nothing to fear
from any deal since it wouldn't be implemented without a referendum.
HAIN: Gibraltarians are
the only group of British citizens that have a veto over national government
policy because they will have a referendum in the end, without which any
agreement that we reach with Spain, if we do reach an agreement, cannot
be implemented. So, I think it's important that Gibraltarians look to the
future and see the opportunities for them, if we do reach an agreement,
an end to border delays, an end to all the aggravation from Spain, a modern
status for Gibraltar, huge investment coming in.
CARUANA: The British government
says that nothing will be implemented in practice unless we approve it
in a referendum, and that sounds jolly good, but it's only half the story.
The other half of the story that they don't explain so clearly in the UK,
is that whatever agreements of principles they reach, whatever concessions
in principle, the UK makes to Spain on our sovereignty, on our right to
decide our own future, on our future options, they will stay on the table
as the agreed Anglo Spanish position, even if we reject it in a referendum
and we consider that to be a complete betrayal of our future rights as
GROSSMAN: A piece of living history,
signed in 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht is the reason Britain and Spain agree
that Gibraltar can't be given the right of self-determination. In this
faded Latin, Britain took sovereignty of Gibraltar forever but agreed to
hand it back to Spain if it no longer wanted it. Over a hundred years
before Queen Victoria was born it seems, Gibraltar's fate was sealed for
HAIN: Look, let's just
be sensible about this. The Treaty of Utrecht has the force of international
law on the sovereignty issue, nobody disputes, nobody of common sense
disputes the essential provision, that if we gave up sovereignty which
independence for Gibraltar would mean, it would have to pass to Spain.
Now we're not about to do that. We're not about to hand Gibraltar over
to Spain and nor are we about to give Gibraltar independence.
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND: We live in a time when self
determination, it's supposed to be the fundamental principle, that's what
we, what Mr Blair in particular goes round preaching, and if the people
of Kosovo are not being required to share sovereignty with Belgrade, which
we all know is indeed going to be the situation, they're going to move
towards independence, if Mr Blair was prepared to fight a war, for Kosovo
not to be controlled by Belgrade, why is he handing over Gibraltar to Madrid.
GROSSMAN: They've had a referendum
on joining Spain before in Gibraltar - in 1967 only 44 people liked the
idea. Then Spain dismissed the exercise as irrelevant. Now Spain says
it will accept the result of any referendum so long as it's not treated
as legally binding on the two governments. That in itself represents a
welcome change in Spanish thinking.
JOSEP PIQUE: We accept the democratic expression,
by the Gibraltarians, but never these democratic expression, must be interpreted
as a self determination rights expression.
GROSSMAN: Rock solid Gibraltar
certainly isn't. It's actually riddled with miles of tunnels. These on
the north face were dug to blast hellfire on the French and Spanish armies
who laid siege to Gibraltar in the 1780s.
That siege of course has
long since been lifted, these tunnels are now a tourist attraction but
the siege mentality among the Gibraltar population persists. And given
that they are as determined today to resist any change to their sovereignty,
as they were in the days when these tunnels resonated with the sound of
battle, the question is why is the British Government so committed to forging
a deal with Spain.
The answer lies partly
in the characters of the British and Spanish Prime Ministers. Both see
themselves as pragmatic, forward looking politicians, able to set aside
ancient disputes, but partly in hard nosed modern EU politics.
CHARLES GRANT: I think there are two reasons
why the British and Spanish governments are keen to get a deal on Gibraltar.
One is that Tony Blair and Mr Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister are very
close allies in Europe. They agree on lots of things, economic reform,
close relations with the US and a non federal future for the EU. So they
like to work together and they want to remove this bone of contention that
has damaged relations between their two countries. The second factor is
that other governments in Europe, and the European Commission have been
really messed around by the Gibraltar dispute over the years because it
has prevented them from reaching deals on a whole load of EU business and
NATO business as well. So, therefore they are putting pressure on Britain
and Spain to sort this out.
HAIN: We've had a situation
where European legislation, say on air safety, and on a single sky which
will stop delays that irritate us all so often, that Gibraltar finds itself
suspended from that, because Spain will not agree to Gibraltar being included
because that will be to recognise Gibraltar's sovereignty status, which
Spain doesn't do, it feels Gibraltar should be part of Spain. Now, you
either have to say the rest of Europe has to suffer and we all continue
to have air delays, we all continue to have security problems with air..our
airlines, or we actually, proceed in the interests of the whole of Europe.
GROSSMAN: But for the people of
Gibraltar this argument is perhaps the most offensive of all - that what
they see as their fundamental rights should be compromised in the name
of diplomatic horse trading
CARUANA: The foreign office has
identified some advantage to the United Kingdom in reaching a strategic
alliance with Spain, in the European community, and Spain has exacted that
price from the United Kingdom, if you want a strategic alliance with us,
do a deal over Gibraltar, otherwise we won't be the sort of friends that
you want us to be in the European Community, and I think it is regrettable
frankly that the United Kingdom should feel the need to sacrifice the political
rights and aspirations of the people of Gibraltar, simply to curry favour
GROSSMAN: From Gibraltar the suspicion
is that the negotiations on the colony's future are really a bit of a sham,
that it's a done deal. But from here in Madrid it's a very different picture.
There are still several areas of important difference between Britain
and Spain, most crucially whether any agreement, if it emerges, will be
final, whether Spain is prepared at last, to renounce its historic claim
to full and exclusive sovereignty of the rock.
HAIN: One of the reasons
why the negotiations which have been going very well, have reached a very
tricky and difficult stage to the point where perhaps we won't be able
to agree is precisely because we want a permanent settlement. That is the
only solution which will be acceptable in Gibraltar and acceptable to Britain
and is in Spain's interest as well. Now Spain has had this historic claim,
and my message to the Spanish government is let's agree a permanent settlement
now, not something that hands Gibraltar over to Spain because we're not
going to do that. Not something that is a slippery slope towards full Spanish
sovereignty because we're not going to agree that either and even if we
did that wouldn't be supported in our Parliament, and wouldn't be supported
in the referendum, which we promised the people of Gibraltar.
GROSSMAN: But to many Spaniards
the sovereignty claim on Gibraltar is cherished in the way that only an
ancient grievance can be, it's a battle scar on which oaths are sworn -
abandoning it unthinkable. The Spanish government says that although it
cannot formally renounce its sovereignty claim it is willing to re-phrase
it as a long term, dormant and peaceful aspiration.
PIQUE: For any Spanish government
the historical aspiration to recover the full sovereignty of Gibraltar
is an unavoidable aspiration. But I agree in reaching an agreement which
will be an enduring or lasting agreement, but without renouncing forever
to these historical aspiration expressed by any Spanish government through
the history. So we have to combine these two. I know that this is very
difficult to solve.
GROSSMAN: You will want to find
a form of words that keeps alive in the distant future Spanish sovereignty
over the whole of the area you claim, including Gibraltar, but gives a
commitment that you will not revisit that claim the day after.
PIQUE: Absolutely, absolutely,
we have to.. we have to say well, we have reached an agreement, this agreement
is stable, this agreement is providing a future of stability and certainty,
so there will be no claims immediately later on. But Spain is always aspiring
to recover in the future but always through negotiations in very, very
friendly approach, to recover the full sovereignty on Gibraltar.
RIFKIND: I think the Spanish will
take what they are offered, they cannot believe their luck, that they've
got a British government naive and foolish enough to be contemplating offering
them co-sovereignty, they will take it, they will say thank you very much.
They will no doubt behave very nicely for a few years and then they will
revert to their claim for full sovereignty and for incorporating Gibraltar
into Spain regardless of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.
GROSSMAN: The British military
is long used to fighting for Gibraltar, the colony was won and kept because
of its huge strategic importance at the mouth of the Mediterranean. The
Spanish have started to make noises that they want joint sovereignty of
British military installations on the rock as well, that could ultimately
mean no deal is possible since Britain long ago made it clear that the
British military base will stay British.
HAIN: We will retain our
full control over the military base there on the rock, which is of key
strategic importance to us, another bottom line.
GROSSMAN: In Gibraltar though,
any row over the future of the base is a side issue that doesn't change
the fundamental principle at stake. The right of a people, however few
in number, democratically to decide their own future.
CARUANA: In the 21st Century, 18th
Century problems have got to be resolved in accordance with 21st Century
principles, and the 21st Century principles that unite us all, is democracy,
human rights and respect for the wishes of people and respect for the rights
of colonial peoples to decide their own future and that means that the
British Foreign Secretary doesn't rush off to Madrid to do bilateral sovereignty
deal with Spain, against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.
PIQUE: It's very important to say
to the Gibraltarians, you have to think about it. If you think that the
current situation is permanent, you are in a you're in a mistake. You
have to think about a new future, more stable, based on a real, a real
understanding between very....two important countries in Europe, like the
United Kingdom and Spain.
GROSSMAN: The negotiations over
Gibraltar pick up pace next week. The Spanish Foreign Minister will be
travelling to London to continue talks. The Spanish Prime Minister arrives
the week after. But even if the two governments do manage to resolve their
remaining differences, Gibraltarians certainly won't see the matter as