Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1 (f)

Letter from Hon Peter Caruana QC, Chief Minister, Gibraltar, to Rt Hon Robin Cook MP, Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 8 December 1997

  Thank you for you letter dated 3 December 1997, for your invitation to attend the next Brussels Process meeting and for the helpful reassurances that you give in your letter under reply.

  I and my colleagues in the Gibraltar Government have very carefully considered the position in the light of your letter and my own letter, dated 29 October 1997, addressed to Mr Reddaway of your Ministry. We have reluctantly concluded that we cannot, in the present circumstances, accept your invitation on this occasion. I can assure you that this is as much a disappointment to us as I am sure it will be to you.

  The present Gibraltar Government remains prepared to participate in dialogue under the Brussels Agreement provided that this can be done within the parameters of our Manifesto commitments. In order to create the circumstances in which our own preference to attend could be achieved, I wrote to Mr Reddaway on 20 October setting out the points that needed to be satisfactorily addressed. These reflected an imaginative formula to enable us to comply with our own electoral promises without requiring undeliverable agreements from the Spaniards.

  There has been no discussion of our requests in this respect, nor have I been offered any reasons why HMG is unable to give us comfort on some of the points that we raised, which are crucial in the local political context.

  Although it will make this letter longer than it should be, I would like to comment on some of these points. Gibraltar public opinion will not permit participation in a process of dialogue which is structurally purely bilateral between London and Madrid, hence my attempt to recreate the essential features of "non-bilateralism" albeit within a single British delegation so that it should not be unacceptable to Spain. The reason for this position is that we believe that to participate in purely bilateral dialogue supports and sustains the fundamental Spanish position (maintained for that reason) that the people of Gibraltar have no rights in and to the territory of Gibraltar, nor a right to have their wishes respected. Furthermore, given that Spain insists that Brussels talks are about a transfer of sovereignty to Spain, our attendance at such talks on the basis that they are exclusively bilateral in structure between London and Madrid, would be totally inconsistent with our assertion of a right to self determination (even if that right is, in HMG's view, curtailed by the Treaty of Utrecht).

  For this same reason it is important to us in Gibraltar that I should be present throughout the talks and that there should be no "bilaterals" between Foreign Ministers in my absence, as part of the Brussels Process.

  I have never doubted the reliability of HMG's often repeated assurances about sovereignty, hence our willingness to participate in dialogue.

  I have heard the view expressed by some officials in the Foreign Office that our position would mortgage and fetter future British Government policy and that it holds the Brussels Process to ransom if we should discontinue our attendance. Neither of these is either intended or the case.

  Obviously I understand that you would continue to meet with your Spanish counterpart, even about Gibraltar, on many other occasions and fora, including ordinary bilateral meetings between the British and Spanish Government. I have also made it clear that I understand that if our requirements were accommodated, any such arrangements would persist only while we were participating in talks under the process.

  Because Gibraltar has not participated in talks under the Brussels Process since 1988, our participation in it now, even once, would, as far as Spain is concerned, validate the process as she sees it. That is why it is important to us that the understanding as to the basis for our participation should be enduring while we participate in it and that nothing should be agreed under the Process without our agreement. This in no way fetters HMG's freedom of policy outside the Brussels Process, which is conditioned only by our stated fundamental guarantees and assurances to the people of Gibraltar.

  I am sure that your officials will have briefed you fully about the controversial nature of this issue in Gibraltar and the intensity with which it is felt. Hence our need for a formula that we are confident of being able to defend. Our policy has always been, and remains, one of attendance at talks even under the discredited (in Gibraltar) Brussels Agreement. You should therefore not doubt our willingness to defend locally a decision to participate, but it must be on the basis of a formula that we can defend.

  Of course, the recent intemperate rantings of Sr Matutes has created the worst possible climate, from Gibraltar's point of view, in the run up to these talks. It is almost as if he has wished to ensure that we would decide not to attend. His unashamed threats of "turning the screws" on Gibraltar would not have made a decision to attend seem any more dignified that it might otherwise have been.

  Finally, it has been indicated to me that I would have the opportunity of a lengthy meeting with you in London on the morning of 10 December, the day of the Brussels Process talks. Your officials are aware that I have been very anxious to meet with you for some time now and that I had offered to travel anywhere at any time to do so. Unfortunately, your very busy schedule has not made it possible. However, the Gibraltar Government has with extreme reluctance decided that a meeting with you on the day of the Brussels Process itself and just hours before the Brussels meeting, would, having decided not to attend this round of Brussels Process talks, create a major presentational problem for us. Furthermore, the inevitable confusion as to whether in those circumstances we had attended the Brussels Process talks is bound to be abused by the Spaniards. You will have seen yourself how adept they are at distorting facts to present a triumphalist scenario.

  I know that this decision will particularly disappoint you, if not irritate you. I hope that it will not do so excessively and that you will understand and empathise with the local political considerations that underlie it. I very much hope that you will be able and willing to make time for me in your schedule in the not too distant future.

  I know that we can count on you batting strongly for Gibraltar on Wednesday. Gibraltar has recently occupied much of your time and we appreciate your effort and commitment on our behalf.

Peter Caruana

Chief Minister

8 December 1997

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