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EDITIONS
Friday, 26 July, 2002, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Rock referendum 'eccentric' - Straw
Gibraltarians protest against shared sovereignty
Most Gibraltarians are against joint sovereignty
The decision of the Gibraltar government to hold its own referendum on the prospect of shared sovereignty with Spain is "eccentric", UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Mr Straw had already come under fire for indicating that the UK Government would not recognise the Gibraltarians' referendum.


People in Gibraltar don't want joint sovereignty, we have been making that clear for eight months

Peter Caruana
The colony's chief minister, Peter Caruana, said the aim of the vote, due to be held in October, was to show the people of Gibraltar would not accept any agreement which involved joint control.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "I think it is a rather eccentric, rather expensive idea to tell us what we knew already.

"But it won't make any difference to the realities of the people in Gibraltar and it is those realities that we are trying to deal with.

"My concern about this is that the day after the referendum result the people of Gibraltar are going to wake up and they'll still be faced with the same reality as they had been the day before."

Earlier Mr Caruana reacted angrily after the Foreign Office let it be known that his referendum would not be recognised.

"Only the Foreign Office could describe a referendum which is an opportunity for ordinary people to express their views in private and in confidence as an undemocratic and short-changing step," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"People in Gibraltar don't want joint sovereignty, we have been making that clear for eight months. Jack Straw has now agreed it in principle with Spain."

Pre-empt negotiations

Mr Caruana said UK plans to hold a referendum after it has reached an agreement with Spain about Gibraltar's future, were unacceptable.

The chief minister, who announced the referendum plan on Thursday, wants to pre-empt negotiations on the future of the Rock before any agreement is reached between the UK and Spain.

He said a deal would be against the wishes of the vast majority of residents and amount to a "betrayal" of their democratic rights.

In a television address to Gibraltarians, Mr Caruana said the government referendum would prove the Rock's 20,000 voters would not accept any agreement diluting their British status.

He said: "Our referendum will constitute the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

'Instant referendum'

"Any attempt to deny it will lack democratic and political credibility."

Earlier this month, Mr Straw provoked outrage in Gibraltar by saying the UK was willing to share sovereignty of the colony with Spain.

He said the final decision would rest with the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, told Today: "Jack Straw's arrogant rejection of the proposed referendum is seen in Gibraltar as an insult to democracy."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram backed Gibraltar's decision to hold its own referendum.

He said: "I believe that this is the correct response to Jack Straw's cynical attempt to wear the people of Gibraltar down by outlining proposals followed by long delay."

He told Today: "I suspect there are European agendas involved in this.

"Friendship with Spain - I suspect Tony Blair thinks (it) is going to help him with his European ambitions, whatever they maybe - his political and government ambitions."

Military base

The vote cannot be a formal referendum under the treaty governing the colony, but it would be a "valuable test of opinion", he added.

And it "would show beyond doubt the resolve of the people of Gibraltar to retain British sovereignty and to reject the cynical sell-out proposed by the foreign secretary."

The row comes as Tony Blair confirmed Spain could be given access to the UK military base on Gibraltar.

The prime minister insisted Britain would retain sovereignty over the facility.

But he said it could be converted into a Nato base, which would mean all Nato members, including Spain, would have access.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Helen Wade
"The British and Spanish government quickly pointed out they wouldn't recognise the result"
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"We are trying to have a dialogue to resolve the dispute"
Chief Minister of Gibraltar Peter Caruana
"People in Gibraltar don't want joint sovereignty"

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See also:

26 Jul 02 | Media reports
13 Jul 02 | Politics
13 Jul 02 | Politics
10 Jul 02 | Europe
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