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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
UK upsets Spain's Gibraltar plans
By William Horsley
BBC European affairs correspondent

Gibraltar pro-UK protest
Gibraltarians overwhelmingly favour staying British
A British foreign office minister has said there is no realistic chance of an accord with Spain to end the two countries' dispute over Gibraltar, because Gibraltar's population has shown it wants to remain British.

The comments by Europe minister Denis MacShane have caused dismay in Spain, which has said it is determined to make Gibraltar Spanish territory after nearly 300 years of British rule.

In practice the efforts by the British and Spanish governments to reach an agreement for a kind of shared sovereignty over Gibraltar have been stalled for months, since 99% of the people of Gibraltar voted to remain British in a referendum last year.

Mr MacShane has now acknowledged, in an interview in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, that the Gibraltarians will not accept any major change in their status without a long period of calm relations with Spain.

He repeated the British Government's pledge that no deal would be made with Spain without the consent of the people of Gibraltar.

Officially, British officials say they remain committed to the process of talks with Spain that had earlier led to a framework accord about shared sovereignty.

Relations threatened

But Mr MacShane's words suggest that the whole issue could now be put off for a generation.

His Spanish ministerial counterpart, Ramon de Miguel, has criticised the comments as "inappropriate".

Public feeling about Gibraltar in Spain is running high and the issue threatens to damage the otherwise close relations between the two governments.

Spain continues to put pressure on the 30,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar by imposing long delays at the border with Spain and hindering telephone communications.

In Britain the Gibraltarians receive warm support from much of the media, and the main opposition Conservative Party has attacked the government for trying to "sell out" the people of Gibraltar.

A Conservative spokesman said now at last the government seemed to have realised it should give up that attempt.

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