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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 18:24 GMT
Gibraltar premier backs UK rule
St Clement Danes Church
Hundreds gathered for the service
The chief minister of Gibraltar has spoken of his people's desire to remain British at a church service to mark 300 years of UK rule.

Peter Caruana told the congregation at St Clement Danes church in London that Gibraltarians "wish to remain part of the Great British family".

Conservative leader Michael Howard and Labour peer Baroness Symons gave readings to hundreds of guests.

The sovereignty of the Rock remains a hotly contested issue.

People have to stop carrying on viewing Gibraltar as a problem that needs to be solved
Peter Caruana

Mr Caruana told the service: "We value and wish to retain our links with Britain.

"We wish to respect our neighbour, Spain, but Gibraltarians wish to remain part of the Great British family."

Speaking after the service, he told BBC News Online: "The wishes of Gibraltarians have to be respected. They voted overwhelmingly to remain British.

"People have to stop carrying on viewing Gibraltar as a problem that needs to be solved."

Mr Caruana said he was disappointed that invitations to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to attend the service had not been taken up, but that he had been pleased to see other members of the government.

Gibraltar map

And he said Tuesday's event was about "celebrating the link" between Britain and Gibraltar over the last 300 years and that it would have been "politically provocative" to have invited representatives of the Spanish government.

Former Conservative leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Thatcher joined other MPs, the Duke of Kent, clergy, members of the military and foreign diplomats at the service.

After the service, Mr Duncan Smith told BBC News Online: "It was a very strong message, that not only British people but Gibraltarians want to remain British.

"It should remain British, there should be no negotiation."

Mr Duncan Smith also expressed disappointment that more senior members of the government had not attended.

And Conservative leader Michael Howard told BBC News Online: "There should be no change in the status of Gibraltar without the full consent of the people of Gibraltar."

'Broad agreement'

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asserted in July 2002 that Britain and Spain had reached a "broad agreement" over Gibraltar's sovereignty - a statement which prompted widespread protests from Gibraltarians.

A Foreign Office spokesman told BBC News Online the position on Gibraltar remained unchanged.

Baroness Thatcher
Baroness Thatcher was among the congregation
"Our aim remains to make a more stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar and to resolve the problems it faces. We are continuing the dialogue with Spain and Gibraltar."

He said no date had been set for any further meetings for talks over sovereignty.

Last year an influential group of MPs warned a joint sovereignty deal for Gibraltar was wrong in principle and unworkable.

A poll of Gibraltarians in 2002 rejected a proposal for shared UK-Spanish sovereignty.

But Spain said the result had no value and full sovereignty was non-negotiable.

The Rock was captured from Spain in 1704 during the war of Spanish succession by a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet.

It became a British colony in 1830, having had its British sovereignty formalised in 1713.

Scrap Gibraltar deal, MPs say
31 Jul 03  |  Politics

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