Treaties and Agreements

The Straw Statement on Joint Sovereignty
12th July 2002


As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I had planned to be in Madrid this morning for a meeting, under the Brussels process with Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique. However, because of the Cabinet changes in Spain this week, the new Foreign Minister, Ana de Palacio, has asked us to postpone the meeting until after the summer, and we have agreed.

Some time ago, I undertook to report to the House before the summer recess on the progress of our talks. Had today's meeting taken place, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe would have made a statement early next week in my absence on a long-arranged visit to the far east. In view of the postponement of today's talks, however, I thought it right to take the first opportunity to report to the House myself.

There has been a dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar for the last 300 years. As the House will be aware, in 1984 the then Conservative Government decided that the only way in which to make progress to resolve the dispute was to talk to Spain about both the practical issues of concern to Gibraltar and the sovereignty issue which mattered to Spain. The so-called Brussels process was thus born.

This Government decided last year to relaunch those negotiations. We did so because we had reached the same conclusion as our predecessors-that the status quo was damaging to Gibraltar, and also damaging to Britain. It is damaging to Gibraltar because Gibraltar will not thrive while the dispute festers and its people have to put up with everyday disruption: queues at the border, insufficient telephones lines, inadequate air services and much else. Moreover, Gibraltar has an uncertain future in isolation from the European Union's single market and the global marketplace, and as tax havens are phased out.

The dispute is also damaging to Britain's interests because we are trying to build a strategic alliance with Spain to help deliver the European Union that we both seek, and because Spain has repeatedly blocked European measures we want-measures, for example, to make air travel safer, flights cheaper and delays shorter.

Above all, the dispute affects the 30,000 Gibraltarians; but it also affects 60 million Britons. It needs to be solved for good. I know that there are those who think we should simply tackle the practical irritants faced by Gibraltarians, but that has been tried for decades and it has failed. The only way of securing a stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar is through a comprehensive and permanent settlement of the dispute, and that means an agreement with Spain on all issues including-as flagged up by the Brussels communiqué itself in 1984-sovereignty.

By taking the latter approach, we have made significant progress towards a solution. It may be helpful if I remind the House of the phases of the process on which we are embarked. In the first phase, the current one, our objective has been to agree the framework-the principles-of a new permanent settlement for Gibraltar. That is what we have been working on for the past year or so. If and when we were able to reach agreement with Spain on such a framework, we would publish it in a joint declaration-a statement of intent by the two Governments. Thereafter, in the second phase, there would be further detailed negotiations-in which the Government of Gibraltar would again be invited to participate fully-to produce a comprehensive package, including a new draft treaty, based on the principles set out in the joint declaration. The United Kingdom would ratify such a treaty only after securing the consent of the Gibraltarians in a referendum.

After 12 months of negotiation, we and Spain are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement. They include the principles that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar including the disputed territory of the isthmus; that Gibraltar should have more internal self-government that Gibraltar should retain its British traditions, customs and way of life; that Gibraltarians should retain the right to British nationality, and should gain the right to Spanish nationality as well that Gibraltar should retain its institutions-its Government, House of Assembly, courts and police service; and that Gibraltar could, if it chose, participate fully in the European Union single market and other EU arrangements.

Her Majesty's Government believe that a settlement along those lines would offer Gibraltar and its people a great prize. It would mean greater freedom for the people of Gibraltar to make decisions affecting their lives, and to live, work and travel without constraints anywhere in the region and beyond. It would mean greater prosperity and more jobs-from new opportunities to trade freely in the European Union, from the investment that would come if the dispute were settled, and with the prospect of millions of pounds of EU funding to help. It would mean a better quality of life, with improved telephone and transport services, a cleaner and healthier environment, a better infrastructure and faster communications. And it would mean a long-term, settled future: it would mean preserving Gibraltar's links with Britain, while developing a new and successful relationship with Spain.

I profoundly believe that such a future is in the interests of the people of Gibraltar; but, as I have stressed many times, it is not in the end a decision for me or even for the House. The decision rests with the people of Gibraltar. If we and Spain can, after taking stock, reach agreement on the kind of framework that I have outlined, and if thereafter all parties can build on those principles to produce a comprehensive settlement, the whole package will be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum and they will decide.

We had hoped to reach agreement with Spain by the summer, but I have also made clear many times that no deal is better than a bad deal. There have been distinct "red lines" throughout this process.

We and Spain have not yet resolved all differences. In respect of the duration of co-sovereignty, we must have a permanent settlement. Co-sovereignty cannot be just a stepping stone to full Spanish sovereignty, however long delayed. I know and understand that Spain has a long-standing historical aspiration to regain full sovereignty one day, but any agreement between us and Spain must be permanent. Gibraltar must have certainty. As for the British military facilities, we have made it clear that our current arrangements should continue.

Unless we and Spain can resolve the outstanding issues, there will plainly be no agreement. Our aim, however, remains to overcome them if we can. We must remember that Spain too has interests. It too has politics; it too has history. The departing Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique, has conducted the negotiations throughout with honesty, dignity and integrity, and I pay tribute to him. I am confident that his successor, Ana de Palacio, will wish to continue in the same spirit.

I hope that the people of Gibraltar will be able to reflect over the summer on the progress that we and Spain have made to date. I am glad to say that there is already some new thinking in Gibraltar. I have been struck by the readiness of some people there to think constructively about the future. Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Mr. Peter Caruana, has himself long been committed to dialogue with Spain, and I have always wanted him in the talks alongside me, and free to represent Gibraltar. That offer from the United Kingdom and Spain still stands, under the long-standing "two flags, three voices" formula. I believe that this and the phased process that I have described provide both the safety and the dignity that Mr. Caruana seeks for his participation, so that Gibraltar's voice can be heard in the negotiations as well as outside.

After 12 months of negotiations, we are now closer than ever before to overcoming 300 years of fraught history and securing a satisfactory outcome to a process established 19 years ago by the Conservative Government of whom the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, was a member. The chance of a better future for Gibraltar-more stable, more secure and more prosperous-is too important to let slip. We shall continue to seek an agreement, but it must be one that is acceptable to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. That is the basis on which I commend our policy to the House.