A joint sovereignty deal for Gibraltar is wrong in principle, unenforceable and should be withdrawn as soon as possible, an influential group of MPs has warned.
Gibraltarians overwhelmingly favour staying British
Instead, the British government should work on establishing normal and cooperative ties between the Rock and Spain, according to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC).
Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected joint sovereignty of the territory with Spain in a referendum held last November.
But the Foreign Office says it does "not accept" the FAC's conclusion that joint sovereignty is unacceptable.
In their report, the MPs acknowledge that the subject of Gibraltar "has probably found us further from agreement with the government than on any other issue".
"We believe that the government has misjudged and mishandled the Gibraltar question and we will continue to scrutinise it closely," they said.
But on the joint sovereignty deal for Gibraltar, the MPs said: "In our view, the reality is that the deal is not only wrong in principle, it
is simply unenforceable.
"The government should recognise explicitly that the deal is dead, and should arrange for a speedy burial.
"We recommend that the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] withdraw its unacceptable joint sovereignty
proposal, and then get on establishing normal and co-operative relations between
Spain and Gibraltar as should be the case between member states of the EU and
their dependent territories."
Last month Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane said there was no realistic chance of an accord with Spain to end the two countries' dispute over Gibraltar, because its population has shown it wants to remain British.
Tony Blair appeared to back those comments at the time by stressing: "There can be no question of any deal going through without the consent of the people of Gibraltar. "
A Foreign Office spokesman said the government's objective "has always been to reach an agreement that it could commend to the people of Gibraltar", that "offered the prospect of a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltarians".
Sovereignty would only form "one part" of the agreement.
"It has always been the government's position that there will be no agreement without the consent of the people of Gibraltar," he added.
But Richard Spring, the Conservative's foreign affairs spokesman, urged the government to accept the committee's recommendations.
He said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw should "admit that his policy of bullying the people of Gibraltar into sharing their sovereignty with Spain was not simply a failure, it was
stupid from the start".
"The government must immediately act on the committee's recommendations and
explicitly and publicly say that their botched deal is finished."
The FAC report also expressed concern about the terms governing Gibraltar's attendance at talks under the so-called Brussels process - set up in 1984 to resolve the dispute.
Under the "two flags, three voices" formula, Gibraltar is allowed to attend talks as part of the UK team with the right to speak on any issue, but no veto, the MPs said.
The two flags, Spain and Britain, could agree proposals without Gibraltar's consent, but a referendum of its people would have to be held on any plans affecting the sovereignty of the territory.
The committee noted that ex-foreign secretary Robin Cook would not agree to any new arrangements involving Gibraltar without the specific endorsement of its people.
The MPs urged the government to explain why this undertaking was not renewed and recommended that Gibraltar be invited to participate in further talks on its future.
The FAC also raised concerns about Spain's apparent opposition to the process of enfranchising Gibraltar's electorate.
It urged action to tackle a variety of practical problems on Gibraltar, including the pensions crisis, telecommunications problems and landing
charges at Gibraltar Airport.
The Ministry of Defence operates the joint civilian and military facility which levies landing charges five times higher than at Malaga, the
nearest Spanish airport.
The MPs argued that reducing landing charges would encourage greater commercial use of the airport.