[A-List] UK EU policy: Gibraltar
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Fri Jul 26 02:37:47 MDT 2002
The real news here is not that Caruana and his circle, desperate to cling on to whatever power they so undeservedly possess, are arranging a snap referendum, but that Blair and co. are openly touting the use of the expensive British base in Gibraltar as a potential NATO asset. Thereby costs are shared, Spain is appeased and Britain earns kudos as a committed European. And who better than Prime-Minister-in-waiting Peter Hain to see it through?
Gibraltar defies Blair with snap referendum
The Herald, 26 July 2002
GIBRALTAR last night moved to block Tony Blair's attempts to give Spain a foothold on the rock by declaring it would hold its own referendum on the future of the British colony.
The decision by Peter Caruana, the island's chief minister, came just hours after after the prime minister confirmed Spanish forces could be given access to the British military base on Gibraltar. It also followed a statement by Peter Hain, the Europe minister, that the government would not recognise a poll organised without Whitehall involvement.
The poll, due in October, is likely to record an overwhelming rejection of the UK-Spain proposal of joint sovereignty.
At his second presidential-style press conference in Downing St, Mr Blair said yesterday that Britain was prepared to consider converting the base into a Nato facility, which could be used by all members of the alliance - including Spain.
In a television broadcast to Gibraltar's 35,000 inhabitants, Mr Caruana insisted "our referendum will constitute the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. Any attempt to deny it will lack democratic and political credibility".
Mr Caruana added: "We cannot risk being seen to have acquiesced in his declaration. If we do, the political ground conceded will be consolidated, irretrievably and for all time."
There was "absolutely no prospect whatsoever" of Gibraltar's people accepting joint sovereignty, he said.
In a statement to the House of Commons on July 12, Jack Straw, foreign secretary, said that while no deal had been done with Spain, broad agreement had been reached on principles to underpin a lasting settlement, including "the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar".
Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign secretary, said the referendum was "the correct response to Jack Straw's cynical attempt to wear the people of Gibraltar down by outlining proposals followed by long delay".
Until now the UK government had been insistent that the strategically important base would remain British; allowing access to Spanish forces is regarded as another carrot in London's bid to find a permanent solution and wean Madrid off its insistence on full sovereignty.
Following an interview with El Pais, the leading Spanish newspaper, in which Mr Hain suggested the possibility of opening up the base to Spanish forces, the prime minister was adamant it would remain under UK control.
"If it is for Nato purposes or any other purposes, it is only with British consent and British sovereignty. If we decide to have that as a Nato base . . . then there is no reason why that shouldn't involve any Nato country," he said.
"The point is that the issue that arose during the course of these discussions was would we be sharing the sovereignty of this base with Spain - and the answer to that is no," he added.
Nonetheless, the suggestion was greeted warmly by Ana Palacio, the Spanish foreign minister, as a new development with the potential to break the deadlock in the stalled sovereignty talks. "We'll wait for Britain to put its new proposals on the table but I think it's a sign of goodwill in the negotiations," she said.
However, Mr Ancram said the possibility of joint use of the military base was "not only a strange and unacceptable way to announce sensitive government policies but it is also yet another step in the dishonourable process of sell-out".
The issue of the base, which controls naval access to the Mediterranean, has been hugely sensitive. Earlier this year, it emerged Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, had written what was described as a "strongly worded" letter to the foreign secretary warning him not to put vital UK strategic interests at risk.
Mr Straw was forced to declare control of the base was a "red line" issue for the government, which it was not prepared to concede in its negotiations with the Spanish.
More information about the A-List