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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 09:16 GMT
Spain talks tough on Gibraltar
Gibraltar's Independent Liberal Forum party leader Felix Alvarez tries to unfurl a flag at the Spanish parliament
Gibraltar's government is boycotting the talks
Spain's foreign minister has said his country will never renounce its claim of sovereignty over the Rock of Gibraltar.

Spanish-Gibraltarian border
Spanish commuters to Gibraltar face border checks
Josep Pique was speaking to the BBC ahead of talks on Tuesday morning between Britain and Spain on the future of Gibraltar.

Mr Pique and his British counterpart, Jack Straw, will be meeting for two hours in Barcelona to kick-start a series of talks intended to last for around a year.

At the end of the process, the two governments aim to have reached agreement on the future status of Gibraltar, which has been in British hands since it was seized in 1704.

There has been much speculation that a deal on joint sovereignty could be in the pipeline.

We reckon it is a sell-out - Blair is too friendly with the Spanish prime minister, and he is trying to get rid of this Gibraltar problem

Gibraltar resident
The Gibraltar Government - suspicious that Britain is preparing a "sell-out" to Madrid - is boycotting Tuesday's meeting because it has not been given a veto over its outcome.

But Mr Straw denied in a BBC interview that a deal was being "stitched up" in which the people of Gibraltar would have no say.

He emphasised that any move on sovereignty would be subject to a referendum of Gibraltarians.

Spanish flag

However, Mr Straw would not be drawn on whether Spain would be allowed to have offices on the Rock and fly the Spanish flag, a concession which media reports say London is willing to consider.

"I'm not going to pre-empt the results of negotiations... I'm not getting into things like that," Mr Straw said from Barcelona.

Mr Pique said Spain and Britain would work in the interests of the current and the future inhabitants of the Rock, at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula.

He said he was sorry that Gibraltar's chief minister had not accepted an invitation to the talks.

The UK Foreign Office on Monday insisted that the talks on Tuesday were simply to discuss routine practical matters.

A spokesman played down reports that ministers were ready to consider a joint sovereignty arrangement.

He said the subject was not "taboo" but that no proposals of that kind would be coming out of Tuesday's meeting.

The BBC's Justin Webb
"An end is in sight for this ancient row"
Chief Minister for Gibraltar Peter Caruana
"What is on offer is the UK and Spain coming to an agreement without consulting the Gibraltar government"
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"Any decision will be put to the people of Gibraltar"
See also:

20 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Gibraltar 'will have referendum'
17 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gibraltar eyes uncertain future
08 Nov 01 | Europe
Clouds gather over Gibraltar
29 Oct 01 | Europe
'Deadline set' for Gibraltar deal
05 Jun 99 | Europe
Gibraltar: Rock of ages
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