Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


108. Having examined the areas in which pressure is being exerted against Gibraltar, we now turn to consider the way forward for relations with Spain over Gibraltar. We begin by emphasising the need for a positive co-operation between two nations who amicably co-operate over so much else. Spain is a good friend of the United Kingdom and relations between Spain and the United Kingdom are set in a much wider context than the arguments about Gibraltar. Our two countries are partners in the EU and NATO. Millions of British people holiday in Spain, and thousands live there. The Prime Minister recently spoke of the recent "step-change in Britain's bilateral relationship with Spain" when he reported on the British-Spanish summit held when Señor Aznar visited Chequers at Mr Blair's invitation over the weekend of 10 and 11 April 1999. The principal matters discussed at that summit were economic and employment issues and Kosovo.[253] It would be a matter for regret if disputes about Gibraltar were to be allowed to sour discussions on matters as important as these. However, we would expect Gibraltar to form an important part of any discussion at senior level between Spain and the United Kingdom, and that unfriendly Spanish actions against Gibraltar should have an adverse effect on relations between our two countries.

Lowering the temperature

109. The initial statement made to the House after the Chequers summit made no mention of Gibraltar,[254] and nor did the statements to the press made by the two Prime Ministers at Chequers on 10 April. Responses to direct press questions on Gibraltar were very delicate: both Prime Ministers said that they would discuss Gibraltar, but Mr Aznar said that they would approach the matter "with the greatest discretion"—a description echoed by Mr Blair. Mr Blair suggested that discussions should "take place on the basis of some understanding of both points of view." Señor Aznar, somewhat enigmatically said that "it is always good to respect the law and at the same time in our case to speak with discretion." Mr Blair also promised to give "very careful consideration" to the Spanish Government's paper alleging irregularities in Gibraltar (referred to in paragraph 45 above).[255] Mr Caruana told us that the Gibraltar Government had received no details of the two Prime Ministers' discussions so far as they related to Gibraltar, and that the Governor had told him that the FCO itself knew nothing as to the outcome of the discussions.[256] This suggests discretion of the highest degree. When asked specifically to make a statement on the summit so far as it related to Gibraltar, the Prime Minister emphasised the wider context in which British/Spanish relations were set. He said that Gibraltar had been discussed, and that he had set out British policy, and that he "expressed our wish to see improved relations between Britain and Spain lead to material improvements in relation to Gibraltar".[257] According to the FCO, "the two Prime Ministers agreed that they wanted to handle the issue in a way which did not create political difficulties."[258]

110. This measured approach seems to us entirely sensible. A public row between the two Prime Ministers would have served no purpose. The moderation and lack of bellicosity shown by Señor Aznar is most welcome, and contrasts vividly with some of the exceptionally strong and undiplomatic language used by Señor Matutes and others in Spain—and indeed by some in Gibraltar and the United Kingdom who wish to respond to Spanish accusations in kind. We do not doubt that there are strong feelings on both sides of the border, but nothing is to be gained by bombast and megaphone diplomacy.

Is co-operation appeasement?

111. Lowering the temperature of the debate is not synonymous with lack of firmness, though it can be mistaken as such in Gibraltar where there is a feeling that successive British Governments have not supported Gibraltar as actively as they might have done. The former Chief Minister, Sir Robert J Peliza, wrote of "Britain's insufficient support."[259] Ms Marjorie Hoare MBE wrote that "Spain, it appears, must always be appeased."[260] Other witnesses were more forthright—Mr Christopher J Pitaluga told us that nothing had changed since his father, a former Chief Secretary, had written in 1966 of the "spineless, calculating minions of the Foreign Secretary."[261] Mr Nicholas Cruz wrote of an FCO "hidden agenda" to remove the "thorn in Anglo-Spanish relations" which is Gibraltar,[262] and the Rock Firm War Veterans Group saw an even wider conspiracy of "Franco's heirs in Spain today, aided and abetted by the mandarins at the Foreign Office, under the strong influence of big financial "names" in the City etc."[263]

112. We are also aware that Gibraltar figures much more highly on the Spanish foreign policy agenda than it does on the British. This is widely acknowledged in Gibraltar itself, and is perceived as causing difficulties. For example, Mr Christopher J Pitaluga told us that "the real difficulty posed by the Gibraltar problem is that it is of insufficient magnitude to warrant anything other than drift, muddle, fudge and obfuscation on the part of British civil servants whose concern lies with wider issues."[264] Instead of this alleged appeasement, Gibraltarian witnesses called for tough action. For example, Miss Mary Hirst wrote that "it is time the British Government put pressure on and took a firm line against Spain,"[265] while Mr Nicholas Cruz was one of those who argued that tough tactics worked best with Spain.[266]

113. The Committee has made it plain that it believes that the British Government must robustly defend Gibraltar's rights in the European Union, both through action at the European Commission and through bilateral diplomacy with other EU Member States. This has not been done with sufficient vigour in the past. It must also continue to make clear and high-level representations to Spain, at ministerial and ambassadorial level, whenever improper pressure is put on Gibraltar,[267] making it plain that the British Government is prepared to take reciprocal action against Spanish interests if Spain takes unreasonable action against Gibraltar.

114. At the same time, every effort must be made to develop a co-operative relationship with Spain over Gibraltar, especially at the local level and at the regional level in Andalucia. We were very struck by the extent of interdependence of the economies of Gibraltar and the Campo. More might be done, perhaps through the European Union's Committee of the Regions or the Atlantic Arc, to develop the idea of a single economic zone incorporating Gibraltar and its hinterland. Co-operation is not limited to economic matters. Already in addition to the fundamental economic links there are regular meetings between business people, trades unions, law enforcement and customs officials and others from the two sides of the border. For example, a cross-border Consultative Committee has been established.[268] Mr Caruana told us of the contacts he had developed with the local authorities at the level of town, provincial deputation and region.[269] What he has done to secure an agreement with local Spanish fishing interests demonstrates how progress can be made. Gibraltarian witnesses argued that leaving Madrid out of the equation might help this process. For example, the Gibraltar Council of the European Movement wrote that the "present campaign of harassment" will "only achieve the souring of relationships between Gibraltar and the neighbouring towns."[270] The Gibraltar Labour Party believed that "interregional co-operation without Madrid/London interference could be the way ahead."[271] The devolved governmental structure in Spain makes possible a substantial level of development of policy on economic development and co-operation at regional level in Andalucia, but ultimately the foreign policy is determined in Madrid.

The Brussels Process

115. Relations between London and Madrid over Gibraltar are at present set within the Brussels Process, and there is the outstanding matter of the Matutes proposals of December 1997. The FCO told us that the Foreign Secretary had agreed to examine Señor Matutes's proposals, but emphasised that the Government stood by the commitment of the Preamble to the 1969 Constitution. The Foreign Secretary reiterated the 1969 commitment at the meeting with Señor Matutes in December 1997.[272] However, no formal British reply to Señor Matutes's proposals has yet been made,[273] though the Government has promised to respond to them at the next meeting in the Brussels Process, for which no date has yet been set.[274] Ms Quin told us that a delay in responding to such proposals was "in line with the way that these issues have been discussed since the Brussels Process was set up in the early 1980's."[275] The principal reason for the delay in responding is undoubtedly the concern that a negative response may precipitate the adverse consequences which Señor Matutes has threatened. After all, the agreement of the Brussels Process in 1984 was linked to the opening of the border in 1985. The same considerations probably lay behind the fact that the previous Government took eight years to respond to the Moran proposals of 1985.

116. There is a very widespread view in Gibraltar that the Matutes Proposals should be rejected. According to the Gibraltar Government, the proposals are "wholly unacceptable to the people of Gibraltar."[276] A petition calling for their rejection and signed by 12,499 Gibraltarians was presented to the Prime Minister on 10 December 1998, and later that month the Gibraltarian House of Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to this effect.[277] Opposition politicians in Gibraltar put it to us that, in effect, the British Government therefore had no choice but to reject the proposals if it truly wished to respect the wishes of the Gibraltarian people as it claimed that it did. For the proposals to remain on the table, "makes a mockery of the commitment to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar," according to the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party and the Liberal Party of Gibraltar.[278] Sir Robert J. Peliza, the former Chief Minister, described the whole Brussels Process as "nefarious"[279]; and another Gibraltarian witness argued that it was "a weakness in diplomacy" that the proposals were not rejected outright.[280]

117. Mr Caruana told us that the sooner the Matutes proposals were rejected, "the sooner the possibility at least arises of Spain modifying her position, moderating her approach and engaging in a more practical way forward that leaves the issue of sovereignty to one side".[281] Challenged to justify this position, he told the Committee that "the rejection of the Matutes proposals is not synonymous with discontinuing discussions on sovereignty".[282] He made it clear that he would prefer it if sovereignty had not formed part of the discussion process between the United Kingdom and Spain, but he also told us that his Government had "always understood ... that you cannot sensibly expect to engage Madrid in a process of dialogue in which they are not free even to raise the matter that is most of interest to them, and that is sovereignty".[283]

118. The Gibraltar Government had in written evidence drawn our attention to what they saw as the "most welcome acknowledgement" by Señor Matutes at the time he presented his proposals that Spain did not wish to have a solution to the sovereignty dispute imposed upon the people of Gibraltar.[284] The Spanish Government must realise that respect for the democratic will of the Gibraltarian people as to their constitutional future is the base line of British Government policy. There is certainly no willingness, either in Gibraltar or in the United Kingdom, to contemplate Spanish joint sovereignty as a response to threats of Spanish action against Gibraltar.[285] Any Spanish belief to the contrary is profoundly misconceived. On the other hand, it has been perfectly legitimate for successive Spanish Governments to raise the issue of sovereignty under the Brussels Process—and understandable for them to accuse British Governments of bad faith if substantive progress on sovereignty is regarded as a non-starter on the British side. Mr Caruana himself spoke of the "false hopes" which the Brussels Process engendered in Spain.[286]

119. We questioned Ms Quin about the wisdom of continuing with the Brussels Process so long as discussions about sovereignty remained possible under the Process. She argued that any realistic approach to discussions with Spain about Gibraltar had to consider these constitutional questions; that to take discussions about sovereignty out of the Brussels Process would be "tantamount to dismantling" the Process; and that it was not the Government's policy to dismantle the Process.[287] We disagree. We believe that the Government must reject Señor Matutes's proposals. We also believe that there is no likelihood that there will be any change of opinion on the question of sovereignty. In these circumstances, we believe that the Brussels Process is itself a greater impediment than an aid to progress, creating as it does exaggerated fears in Gibraltar and false hopes in Spain. It is now the right time to move the agenda onward. We recommend that Señor Matutes's proposals be rejected, and that the Brussels Process be replaced by a new phase in British/Spanish relations over Gibraltar.

A new phase in British/Spanish relations over Gibraltar

120. First of all, we note that there are many meetings between British and Spanish Ministers and senior officials (including the new series of summit meetings between the two Prime Ministers) at which Gibraltar is discussed, but which do not form part of the Brussels Process.[288] Secondly, the Brussels Process is, in fact, concerned with a great deal more than sovereignty: it is about "promoting co-operation on a mutually beneficial basis on economic, cultural, touristic, aviation, military and environmental matters". In rejecting Señor Matutes's sovereignty proposals and moving on from the Brussels Process, the British Government needs to build up an alternative and positive programme of real benefit both to Gibraltar and to Spain. We recommend a new process of regular dialogue on those many other areas where agreement and co-operation could yield substantial benefits to Gibraltarians and Spanish people alike.

121. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence we received (and the only evidence from Spain) was submitted by Señor Rafael Estrella.[289] Señor Estrella's Memorandum was submitted in a personal capacity, but he is the Foreign Affairs parliamentary spokesman of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). He is also a Deputy representing Granada in Andalucia. Señor Estrella identified Gibraltar as constituting "increasingly" an obstacle to bilateral Spanish/British relations and he wrote of the "most serious crisis between Spain and Britain since the beginning of the Spanish democracy" which had been occasioned by the lack of understanding during the fishing dispute. He believed that the "sovereignty factor" overshadowed politics in Gibraltar so preventing the communities on either side of the border from developing a normal relationship. Señor Estrella shares a number of Spanish perceptions of Gibraltar (he writes of "lack of implementation in Gibraltar of EU legislation" and the "lack of transparency in financial activities," for example), and he argues against integration or other constitutional change. However, he also advocates "an understanding to put aside the sovereignty factor for a given period and an undertaking to explore areas of co-operation." For him, the Brussels Process "provides the appropriate forum for this new approach; indeed, it contains a sound basis for co-operation." He also favours dialogue between Gibraltar and Spain as part of that Process. The possible result of this amelioration of relations was described in an article which Señor Estrella wrote in the Gibraltar Chronicle on 21 January 1999 after he paid a visit to Gibraltar. It is worth quoting his vision of the future which would be possible:

"One can easily imagine some of the steps that, under a new environment, might be taken without permanent changes in the status quo: a return to normality in fishing activities, a stable and smooth passage at the La Linea gate, a joint, cohesive approach to the implications—positive and negative—of financial and other aspects (VAT, etc) of Gibraltar economy, tourism co-operation, including—why not?—assessing perspectives for a joint use of the airport, etc.

Citizens of Gibraltar and the Campo would be the driving forces responding to these challenges. Confidence-building, even if reversible, should be stable and removed from uncertainty for a given period of time, after which we would be able to evaluate upon realities and results and to address a further course of action."

122. Mr Caruana believed that Señor Estrella's approach had "much to commend it", and was "entirely compatible" with the approach of the Government of Gibraltar which he characterised as:

"Sovereignty is an intractable problem, there isn't going to be any progress on it. Let's engage in dialogue, let's engage in bridge-building and let's see what can or cannot be achieved leaving sovereignty to one side".[290]

Unless the wishes of the Gibraltarian people were overridden on sovereignty (and there was no suspicion that this might happen), the Chief Minister thought there was:

"No alternative but to engage in a more constructive policy of dialogue and bridgebuilding and trying to eliminate the tensions which have historically characterised the relationships, so that future generations can address this issue in whatever new light and new spirit is then prevailing."

The Committee considers the views of Señor Estrella and Mr Caruana to be helpful, constructive and enlightened, and to demonstrate the best way forward for Gibraltar, Spain and the United Kingdom.

123. We believe that the construction of a new relationship must involve the Gibraltarian Government in direct discussions with Madrid. So far as Spain has practical worries about Gibraltar - smuggling, company law, tax evasion - these issues are best discussed with the involvement of the democratically-elected Head of Government in Gibraltar. Mr Caruana is anxious for direct discussions to happen - he told us that he would "dearly like to engage the central government in Madrid in dialogue".[291] There is an understandable sensitivity in Spain not to accord anything approaching national status to Gibraltar, and this was recognised by Mr Caruana.[292] This policy was very clear during the fishing dispute. However, Mr Caruana supported the "two flags, three voices" approach which has been adopted in the past.[293] He called for the structure of the dialogue to be modified "so that it is not purely bilateral dialogue between the United Kingdom and Spain, ... but ... a process of dialogue in which Gibraltar feels it is taking part in a way and with a quality of representation, and with a quality of participation, which reflects the fact that ultimately what is being discussed is Gibraltar and our affairs".[294] We agree with this approach, which should apply to any future meetings at ministerial level when Gibraltar is on the agenda. We recommend that the new process of dialogue should put issues of sovereignty on hold, and concentrate on exploring areas of co-operation. The full participation, on the United Kingdom side, of the Government of Gibraltar would be essential.

253   HC Deb 15 April 1999 c. 305. Back

254   HC Deb 15 April 1999 c. 305. Back

255   Full text of Doorstep Interview published by No.10 Downing Street No.027/PM/1999. Back

256   QQ143-5. Back

257   HC Deb. 21 April 1999 c. 595. Back

258   Ev. p. 111 (Appendix 30). Back

259   Ev. p. 81. Back

260   Ev. p. 24. Back

261   Ev. p. 86. Back

262   Ev. p. 98. Back

263   Ev. p. 106. Back

264   Ev. p. 87. Back

265   Ev. p. 91. Back

266   IbidBack

267   Ev. p. 4, para 34 for past representations. These representations continue-see Ev. p. 111 (Appendix 30). Back

268   Q155. Back

269   Q154. Back

270   Ev. p. 109. Back

271   Ev. p. 104. Back

272   Ev. p. 4, para.27. Back

273   Ev. p. 4, paras. 27 and 28. Back

274   HC Deb 4 March 1999 c. 878; Q72. Back

275   Q65. Back

276   Ev. p. 38, para. 54. Back

277   Ev. p. 39, paras. 58-59; p. 4, para. 29. Back

278   Ev. p. 89 (Appendix 4, para. 3). Back

279   Ev. p. 82. Back

280   Ev. p. 105 (Appendix 23). Back

281   Q174. Back

282   Q178. Back

283   Q179. Back

284   Ev. p. 39, para. 61. Back

285   Q174. Back

286   Q174. Back

287   QQ64-71. Back

288   Ev. p. 9, Annex. Back

289   Ev. pp. 100ff. Back

290   Q234. Back

291   Q154. Back

292   Q151. Back

293   Ev. p. 40, paras 65-67; Q153. Back

294   Q176. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 22 June 1999