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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Analysis: Gibraltar not done deal yet
The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar wants to determine its own future

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has told parliament that Britain and Spain are in "broad agreement" about the principles of "sharing sovereignty" over Gibraltar, but it is a long way from being an agreement in practice.

Straw: Promised Britain would only ratify a treaty if the Gibraltarians agreed via referendum
And there is even further to go before the people of Gibraltar would be willing to approve any deal. At the moment, their rejection is almost total.

In fact, British officials are stressing that there is no done deal. Mr Straw's statement, they say, was in the nature of a stock-taking.

Indeed, the foreign secretary said quite clearly: "Unless we and Spain can resolve the outstanding issues, then plainly there will be no agreement."

Three outstanding issues

His statement came on the day he was supposed to be negotiating these outstanding issues with the Spanish foreign minister in Madrid in what was going to be a crunch session.

The meeting was called off when the Minister, Josep Pique, was moved out of his post.

The hope now is that there can be another meeting with the new Foreign Minister, Ana de Palacio, a 53-year-old lawyer and member of the European Parliament (and Spain's first woman foreign minister) in the early autumn.

There are three outstanding issues.

Firstly, the permanence of any agreement to share sovereignty: Britain wants any deal to last and not be subject to a change of heart by Spain some years down the line.

Foreign Office Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, said recently that he thought "a form of words" could be found. But they have not been found yet.

Secondly there is the military base: Britain insists on having operational control. Spain has conceded the principle but wants some kind of joint command which Britain will not accept.

And, finally, there is the referendum: Britain has promised - and Mr Straw promised again in his statement - it will only ratify a new treaty if the people of Gibraltar give their agreement in a referendum.

But Spain has been reluctant to agree that Gibraltar should have the final say, as they regard this as a bilateral issue between two states.

Treaty of Utrecht

The Spanish argument that this is strictly an issue between Spain and Britain goes back to the Treaty of Utrecht, which was signed on 13 July 1713.

People in Gibraltar protesting against joint sovereignty with Spain
Gibraltarians are against the idea of joint sovereignty

The treaty put an end to the War of Spanish Succession - one of those long European conflicts about who should be on the throne of some country.

Gibraltar was captured in 1704 by British Admiral Sir George Rooke, who decided that it would be easier to take than Cadiz.

However it has not proved easy to keep.

The treaty stated in Article X: "The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire property of the town and castle of Gibraltar."

However, at the end of the same article it is made clear that if Britain ever gives up sovereignty, it must be offered back to Spain first: "It is hereby agreed and concluded that the preference of having the sale shall always be given to the Crown of Spain before any others," the article states.

This has meant, in the British view, that there can be no independence for Gibraltar. Hence the convoluted talks about co-sovereignty.

It is a view rejected by the people of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar's counter-argument

The Gibraltarian Government maintains that modern international law, especially the development of the concept of self-determination, trumps the Treaty of Utrecht.

The government says: "The people of Gibraltar, like all colonial peoples before them, enjoy the inalienable right to self-determination, that is, the right to determine their own future."

But for Spain, it is almost brutally simple.

Gibraltar is a part of Spain and Britain should hand it back. So for Spain even to talk about sharing control is a concession.

The question is whether Spain now thinks it has conceded quite enough.

If there is no agreement, or if one is thrown out by the Gibraltarians, then the British Government predicts a bleaker future for Gibraltar.

The European Union is tightening up on tax havens and, without an agreed way forward, the prosperity of the Rock could be undermined.

But this three-way process is as hard to pin down as finding the lady in the three-card trick.

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12 Jul 02 | Politics
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