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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 12:23 GMT
Gibraltar talks go on, UK insists
Flag waving in Gibraltar
MPs have criticised the UK's Gibraltar policy
Talks with Spain over the future of Gibraltar must continue, Tony Blair's official spokesman has insisted.

He was reacting to the result of a referendum in which Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected joint sovereignty of the territory with Spain.


There are real issues which cannot be run away from, and they have to be discussed with the people of Gibraltar and with the Spanish

Tony Blair's spokesman
The prime minister's spokesman said the "bottom line" was that no deals would be done with Spain over Gibraltar without the agreement of the people of the Rock.

But he also warned: "There are real issues which cannot be run away from, and they have to be discussed with the people of Gibraltar and with the Spanish.

"The key question is how do we ensure a more prosperous future for the people of Gibraltar, how do we resolve the real practical issues and how do we work with the Spanish government to resolve those issues.

"Those are the key issues and that is the key dilemma which will not go away."

He added: "I don't think the referendum told us anything that we didn't know."

No surprise

Earlier, Europe Minister Denis MacShane said the UK government was not about to "haul down the union flag" over Gibraltar.

Mr MacShane appealed for a period of reflection after the referendum organised by the Gibraltar government.


It is certainly not my business to be hauling down the union jack over Gibraltar

Denis MacShane
Mr MacShane, who became Europe minister in last month's cabinet reshuffle, said the referendum result had not come as a surprise.

But it did not alter the government's commitment to talks with Spain over shared sovereignty of the Rock, he added.

'Calm things down'

Mr McShane told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think the referendum told us yesterday, frankly what I have known since I was a schoolboy - that the people of Gibraltar want to stay British.

"It is certainly not my business to be hauling down the Union Jack over Gibraltar."

But whether the Spanish flag would be flying alongside the union flag was a matter for the people of Gibraltar, he added.

Mr MacShane said "a little bit of TLC on the part of Madrid" towards Gibraltar "might calm things down".

'Wearisome'

He told Today: "We have to reflect on last night, reflect on the last year and try and take this forward."

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana said he hoped Thursday's vote, combined with a highly critical Commons committee report would be enough to convince the government to end talks with Spain.

The Labour-dominated foreign affairs select committee said UK ministers should never have begun talks over Gibraltar's sovereignty.

It should have been obvious from the start Gibraltarians would reject any such deal with Spain, say the MPs, urging ministers to "take full account" of the result of Gibraltar's unofficial referendum.

Accused

The report says: "The government was wrong to negotiate joint sovereignty when it must have known that there was no prospect whatsoever that any agreement on the future of Gibraltar which included joint sovereignty could be made acceptable to the people of Gibraltar."

Peter Caruana
Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Caruana refused to join talks
The outcome from the start likely to be the "worst of all worlds - the dashing of raised expectations in Spain and a complete loss of trust in the British Government by the people of Gibraltar".

The MPs also accuse ministers of failing to come clean to Parliament about joint sovereignty being under discussion - even though officials had already told the media.

UK ministers have criticised Gibraltar's Government for refusing to take part in the talks with Spain - called the Brussels process.

That criticism is rejected by the Commons committee as not only misguided, but as a move which made matters worse.

'Deplorable'

The committee also calls it "highly ironic" that ministers had given credence to Spanish complaints about financial checks in Gibraltar.

In fact, it was the UK Government and the Financial Services Commission it appointed which was responsible for those checks.

"We feel strongly that the government's failures to rebut Spain's unfounded allegations have let the people of Gibraltar down," says the committee.

The MPs said it was "deplorable" that Europe Minister Peter Hain had dubbed the Rock's pension arrangements a "scam".

'Bullied'

Tory spokesman Michael Ancram called the MP's report a "scathing indictment" on the government's approach to Gibraltar.

It showed ministers had "bullied a small British territory", argued Mr Ancram.

"The government has created a situation where any choice is likely to hurt both Britain's and Gibraltar's interests and it is entirely its own fault."

He called on Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to apologise to Gibraltarians for his "incompetence and arrogance" and break off the talks with Spain.

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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Loyalty to the British flag runs very deep"

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See also:

07 Nov 02 | Europe
05 Jun 99 | Europe
07 Nov 02 | Europe
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