Research paper written for Sir John Stanley
by the International Affairs and Defence Section, House of Commons
Gibraltar: Joint Sovereignty Proposal
You asked me to look at the evolution of the
joint sovereignty proposal for Gibraltar, with particular reference
to the communication of this idea by the British Government to
You suggested that joint sovereignty might have
been raised by the British and Spanish Prime Ministers prior to
the relaunch of the Brussels Process in July 2001. The two leaders
held bilateral talks at Chequers on 10 April 1999, at which Gibraltar,
amongst other things, was discussed. No mention was made in the
edited transcript of the doorstep interview of a discussion of
the Matutes proposal, which was the only joint sovereignty proposal
still awaiting a British response at the time:
Question: I would like to ask both
you, Prime Minister and President Aznar, whether you are going
to talk about Gibraltar [. . .].
Prime Minister: Yes of course we will
discuss Gibraltar in the course of our discussion together and
we have already indicated that we will give very careful consideration
to the paper that was given to us.
Senor Aznar: Naturally we are going
to be talking about Gibraltar but as usual, we will do it with
the greatest discretion and as little as we can about it in public.
Without of course leaving aside the fact that we are facing up
to the problems and that we will talk about it as necessary and
our Ministers of Foreign Affairs will continue working on the
question of Gibraltar as they have up to now.
A number of parliamentary questions in early
1999 sought to clarify the Government's position on the Matutes
Mr Howard: Will the Minister reply to just one of
the questions that I put to her earlier, which she completely
ignored? Why has the Foreign Secretary not yet rejected the proposals
from Spain for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar?
Ms Quin: We have a framework for discussing
issues with Spain, which was adopted by the previous Government,
and we have continued that practice. Those proposals will be examined
within that framework without, in any sense, undermining the commitment
in the Gibraltar constitution to which many Hon Members on both
sides of the House have rightly referred.
Mr Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): When, in
January 1997, the Spanish Foreign Minister proposed joint sovereignty
for Gibraltar, within days, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the then Foreign
"The idea is a non-starter. The simple point
is that Gibraltar people want to remain British citizens. And
that is the end of the matter."
Will the Foreign Secretary repeat his predecessor's
Mr Cook: The fact is that no proposals
were tabled in January 1997. There was an oral discussion between
the two Foreign Ministers, as there has been between me and Sr
Matutes on six occasions in the past year. The Rt Hon and learned
Gentleman is imagining any U-turn, weakening or retreat in the
British position. As I have said to the Spanish Foreign Minister
and to the House, the Government's position is that there can
be no compromise on sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltar
people. Their views on the matter are sovereign. We stand firmly
by the commitment given by a previous Labour Government in 1969that
the people of Gibraltar will freely and democratically decide
whether there should be any transfer of sovereignty.
Mr Trend: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to respond to the Spanish
proposals for joint sovereignty of Gibraltar, tabled on 10 December
Ms Quin: We have always said that we will respond
to the Spanish proposals at the next Brussels Process meeting.
No date has yet been fixed.
Mr Trend: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received
from then residents of Gibraltar over Spanish proposals for joint
sovereignty of Gibraltar, tabled on 10 December 1997; and if he
will make a statement.
Ms Quin: We have received numerous individual
representations from residents of Gibraltar, as well as a petition
organised by the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group. All have
called on HMG to reject the proposals.
Mr Trend: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs if he raised the Spanish proposals for
joint sovereignty of Gibraltar during his meeting with the Spanish
Foreign Minister on 21 February; what was the result of the discussions
on the issues of border delays and possible restrictions on commercial
over-flights; and if he will make a statement.
Ms Quin: I refer the Hon Gentleman
to the answer I gave to the Hon Member for Witney (Mr Woodward)
today. The meeting between the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish
Foreign Minister on 21 February was not part of the Brussels Process.
The Spanish proposals tabled at the last Brussels Process meeting
were not discussed in detail. We have made clear we will respond
to Sr Matutes' proposals at the next meeting of that process.
The Foreign Secretary confirmed to Sr Matutes that we were happy
to have such a meeting.
I cannot find a record of a bilateral meeting
at that level at which joint sovereignty was specifically or formally
discussed, although, as I wrote in the Research Paper on Gibraltar
in May 2002, the two leaders or their foreign ministers would
have met informally in the margins of high level EU meetings,
such as the Stockholm European Council in March 2001, and at NATO
The UK position had been to withhold its views
on the Matutes joint sovereignty proposal until a meeting under
the Brussels process, arguing that the Spanish proposals had been
made within the framework of these discussions.
At Stockholm in March 2001, the then Foreign Secretary, Robin
Cook, intimated that the next Brussels Process talks would take
place after the general election that year. It was this meeting,
in July 2001, at which talks were resumed, but still there was
no official mention of a discussion of joint sovereignty, only
the sovereignty issue. The Government still spoke in rather general
terms about discussions that included sovereignty, shared aims,
mutually beneficial co-operation and a desire to end the long-running
sovereignty dispute, skirting round direct questions about joint
sovereignty. For example, at the press conference following the
ministerial meeting of the Brussels Process on 20 November 2001,
Jack Straw and Josep Pique said:
We discussed the full range of issues set out
in the November 1984 Brussels Communiqué. We did not want
to draw conclusions today. Our aim is to conclude a comprehensive
agreement by the summer of next year. This overall agreement will
cover all outstanding issues, including those of co-operation
Parliamentary questioning on the subject of
joint sovereignty offered no further clarification. On 14 January
2002 the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons that no agreement
to share sovereignty had been reached.
Mr Michael Ancram (Devizes) (by private
notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs if he will make a statement on the Spanish Government's
claim to have reached an agreement with Britain to share sovereignty
The Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw): No agreement has been
reached with the Spanish Government, and the Spanish Government
have made no such claim.
Further parliamentary questioning was less categorical
but did not concede that there had been any discussion of joint
1. February 2002
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of
State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords,
the Government resumed talks with Spain in July 2001 in accordance
with the terms of the Brussels communiqué issued in November
1984. At the most recent round of talks under the Brussels process,
which took place in London yesterday, my right honourable friend
the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish Foreign Minister reaffirmed
their common aim of concluding a comprehensive agreement before
the summer, covering all outstanding issues, including co-operation
and sovereignty. A copy of the joint communiqué issued
after that meeting has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
[. . .]
Baroness Amos: My Lords, our intention is to work
to resolve all the differences between the United Kingdom and
Spain over Gibraltar. We aim to do four things: preserve Gibraltar's
way of life; establish greater self-government in Gibraltar; deliver
practical benefits, including a stronger economy and an end to
problems such as border delays; and end the dispute with Spain
through lasting agreement on issues such as sovereignty.
Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of
State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if Spain has identified
to him the practical benefits to Gibraltar of proposals on joint
Peter Hain: At the Brussels process
meeting in London on 4 February, my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign
Secretary and the Spanish Foreign Minister confirmed their shared
aim of overcoming all differences over Gibraltar, including issues
of mutually beneficial co-operation, and sovereignty. I refer
my Hon Friend to the copy of the joint communiqué from
the 4 February meeting that was placed in the Library.
2. March 2002
Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and
Woodford Green): In 1997, the Prime Minister said:
"we will never consent to any arrangement that
goes against the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar."[Official
Report, 16 July 1997; Vol 298, c 388.]
Given that 80 per cent of the population
turned out on Monday to oppose his plans for joint sovereignty,
does he now stand by every word of that statement?
The Prime Minister: I do stand by it
and of course we have not put proposals to people in Gibraltar
yet. When we do put those proposals[Interruption.]
Well, that is the process that we have agreed. We have agreed
that there should be a process under which we discuss with the
Spanish Government certain proposals. When those proposals are
agreed, they will be put to people in Gibraltar. Of course, people
in Gibraltar will have the final say, as I have always indicated.
reply to a question in the Lords asking the Minister if she believed
"believe that the idea of a joint sovereignty between Britain
and Spain a very positive suggestion for the future?" Baroness
I do not want to anticipate what will emerge
from the discussions which my right honourable friends are having
with their Spanish counterparts, but obviously the issue of joint
sovereignty is likely to be one that has taken up a good deal
of time in discussion. Whether it emerges in the final proposals,
we shall have to wait and see.
An official discussion of Anglo-Spanish attempts
to reach an agreement on joint or shared sovereignty did not emerge
(as far as I can tell) until around mid-2002, during an adjournment
debate on Gibraltar. The then Minister for Europe, Peter Hain,
We never thought that this was going to be easy,
and it has not been. Serious differences remain between us. With
regard to the longevity of any agreement to share sovereignty,
we insist that it must be certain and enduring; it cannot be a
slippery slope to full Spanish sovereignty. We also insist that
the military facilities in Gibraltar must remain under British
control. However, the most important consideration is the role
of the Gibraltarians; we insist that theyrather than Spain
or the British Government or anyone elsemust decide whether
to accept any agreement on sovereignty.
In July 2002 the joint sovereignty aim was confirmed
by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who told the Commons:
After 12 months of negotiation, we and Spain
are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin
a lasting settlement. They include the principles that Britain
and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar[Hon Members:
"Sell-out!"]including the disputed territory
of the isthmus; that Gibraltar should have more internal self-government[Hon.
Members: "Sell-out!"]that Gibraltar should retain
its British traditions, customs and way of life; that Gibraltarians
should retain the right to British nationality, and should gain
the right to Spanish nationality as well[Hon Members: "Surrender!"]that
Gibraltar should retain its institutionsits Government,
House of Assembly, courts and police service; and that Gibraltar
could, if it chose, participate fully in the European Union single
market and other EU arrangements.
[. . .]
We and Spain have not yet resolved all differences.
In respect of the duration of co-sovereignty, we must have a permanent
settlement. Co-sovereignty cannot be just a stepping stone to
full Spanish sovereignty, however long delayed. I know and understand
that Spain has a long-standing historical aspiration to regain
full sovereignty one day, but any agreement between us and Spain
must be permanent. Gibraltar must have certainty. As for the British
military facilities, we have made it clear that our current arrangements
UK and Spanish press reports on joint sovereignty
were more revealing at an earlier stage, although UK press `intelligence'
might well have come from the Spanish press and in particular
the Gibraltar press and Government, which had long suspected that
a joint sovereignty `deal' was an aim of the Brussels Process
negotiations. As early as November 2001 the Financial Times reported:
Britain is willing to consider a joint sovereignty
arrangement with Spain for Gibraltar as part of efforts to achieve
a breakthrough over the status of the colony that has long soured
relations between London and Madrid.
"If Spain wants to have an office and fly
a flag on Gibraltar, we will look at that," a senior British
official said yesterday.
The disclosure came before talks today between
Jack Straw, foreign secretary, and Josep Pique, his Spanish counterpart,
aimed at delivering a new constitutional settlement for Gibraltar.
[. . .]
Britain has resisted ceding any sovereignty, but
Tony Blair is determined to resolve the dispute by the end of
next year. The prime minister is concerned that it is overshadowing
his otherwise productive working relationship with Jose Maria
Aznar, his Spanish counterpart.
In December 2001, the FT reported:
The people of Gibraltar, that British imperial
relic at the far end of Europe, are coming to terms with something
they have dreaded for yearsthe prospect of being asked
to fly the flag of Spain alongside the Union flag.
For the first time in nearly 300 years of British
control, London is proposing to make some concessions towards
Spanish sovereignty claims.
[. . .]
The spur to end the niggling dispute between Britain
and Spain came mainly from the other 13 European Union partners,
fed up with the way this dot on the map gets in the way of EU
initiatives. The UK last made a big push to break the impasse
14 years ago, doing a deal to share Gibraltar's airport. But the
Gibraltarians, opposed to even a symbolic official Spanish presence,
They mostly feel the same about Spain's ideas
for interim joint sovereignty, which Britain avoided discussing
By January 2002, while the Government was still
insisting that no formula for sovereignty had yet been agreed
and that the two countries were aiming for a "joint declaration",
the press was reporting a deal on joint sovereignty
BRITAIN plans to end Gibraltar's 298-year-old
colonial status by signing a historic agreement with Spain to
share sovereignty, the Foreign Office said yesterday. But residents
of the rock must endorse it in a referendum.
Spanish officials confirmed that the deal would
be struck late this summer after 18 years of Anglo-Spanish talks
on the future of Gibraltar.
Britain and Spain are talking of joint sovereignty.
Gibraltarians are twitchy
WHEN two friends have been involved in a long
tug-of-war, why not agree to share? That could be the future for
Gibraltar, a tiny British colony on the southern tip of Spain.
The British and Spanish governments agreed last autumn to reach
a deal about it by this summer. The likeliest resultthough
the British foreign office frantically denies press reports that
such a deal is all but done alreadywould be an arrangement
for the two countries, indefinitely, to administer the territory
jointly under both flags.
Andrew Mackinlay pointed out in the debate on
Gibraltar on 31 January 2002:
The Spanish daily, El Pais, has recently
reported that there is to be an unlimited period of co-sovereignty.
That flies in the face of what the Government have said, and of
what the Foreign Secretary has been publicly telling the House
as recently as 14 January. He said, as my Hon Friend the Member
for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) mentioned, that no agreement had
been reached with the Spanish Government and that that Government
have made no such claims. The dispute is not, as a recent article
in The Observer argued, as anachronistic as the Schleswig-Holstein
question; it is a straightforward one about a people's right to
Mr Hain dismissed these reports as speculation.
The press seem to have been confused, as was
Parliament, about the Government's stated plans for a "joint
declaration" and how this related to "joint sovereignty".
In the debate on Gibraltar on 31 January 2002, Richard Spring
asked: "We need to know whether the joint declaration speaks
of joint sovereignty or whether the Minister is prepared to rule
that out categorically".
The Financial Times's account of the debate assumed that
the joint declaration would contain a proposal for joint sovereignty,
although Mr Hain did not actually spell this out:
The Conservatives attacked the plan as proof
that the government had already agreed a joint sovereignty arrangement
with Spain on Gibraltar.
[. . .]
Peter Hain, minister for Europe, told a Commons debate
that Britain and Spain would issue a joint declaration on Gibraltar
if Mr Caruana continued to absent himself from the negotiations.
The declaration, due in the summer, is expected to set out a joint
The FT again referred to a joint sovereignty
deal in its report on the Straw/Pique meeting on 4 February 2002,
although this had not been mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's
account of the meeting:
The British and Spanish ministers said they had
made "good progress" in yesterday's discussions and
aimed to conclude a comprehensive agreement before the summer
covering "all outstanding issues, including co-operation
The talks are expected to lead to proposals for
a joint sovereignty agreement between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar.
Mr Straw said the government would not renege on its pledge to
put any agreement to a referendum in the colony.
In May 2002 the FT was reporting on the joint
sovereignty proposals as if they had been officially announced:
Josep Pique and Jack Straw, foreign ministers
of Spain and the UK, will meet in London today in an attempt to
unblock negotiations on the future of Gibraltar.
Talks on a co-sovereignty agreement for the British
colony that is claimed by Spain have hit two stumbling blocks,
according to diplomats: the future of Britain's naval base in
Gibraltar and the duration of the sovereignty-sharing arrangements.
However, when the Foreign Secretary announced
in the Commons on 12 July 2002 that the British and Spanish Governments
were pursuing an agreement on joint sovereignty (see above), the
press described the Gibraltar Government as `thunderstruck'. This
is somewhat surprising, given the press speculation about a joint
sovereignty plan in the UK, Spanish and Gibraltar press over several
GIBRALTAR REACTED with shock and disbelief to
Jack Straw's announcement in the Commons yesterday that Britain
was pursuing its aim of striking a joint-sovereignty deal with
The Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, who was clearly
thunderstruck by the announcement, called an emergency meeting
of the Gibraltar government.
International Affairs and Defence Section
House of Commons Library
30 October 2002
70 FCO website at: http://184.108.40.206/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029391629&a=KArticle&aid=1013618397055 Back
HC Deb, 11 February 1999, c 469. Back
HC Deb, 16 February 1999, c 718-9. Back
HC Deb, 16 February 1999, c 752W. Back
HC Deb, 4 March 1999, c 877-8W. Back
The Government responded to the Foreign Affairs Committee's 4th
Report on Gibraltar in October 1999 (Cm 4470, 1998-99) "There
is no realistic prospect of the present Government of Spain agreeing
to exclude sovereignty from dialogue on Gibraltar. The Government
will reply to Senor Matutes's proposals at the next meeting of
the Brussels Process, but when he tabled them the Foreign Secretary
reiterated the British Government's commitment to respect the
wishes of the people of Gibraltar as enshrined in the preamble
to the 1969 Constitution". In October 2000 the Government
responded similarly to the FAC's Ninth Report "Gibraltar:
Follow-up" (Cm 4892, Session 1999-2000). Back
HC Deb, 14 January 2002, c 21. Back
HC Deb, 5 February 2002, c 503. Back
Ibid, c 505. Back
HC Deb, 27 February 2002, c 1310W. Back
HC Deb, 20 March 2002, c 300. Back
HC Deb, 16 April 2002, c 451. Back
HL Deb, 18 April 2002, c 1069. Back
HC Deb, 18 June 2002, c WH40. Back
HC Deb, 12 July 2002, c 1166-7. Back
FT, 20 November 2001, "UK may consider sovereignty
deal in Gibraltar talks: Blair determined to end dispute with
Spain over colony." Back
FT, 17 December 2001. Back
Daily Telegraph, 12 January 2002, "Britain to share
Gibraltar with Spain". Back
Economist, 19 January 2002, "A Deal too Far? Rock-solid
no more?" Back
HC Deb, 31 January 2002, c 173WH. Back
Ibid, c 177WH. Back
HC Deb, 31 January 2002, c 147WH. Back
FT, 1 February 2002. Back
FT, 5 February 2002. Back
FT, 15 May 2002. Back
Independent, 13 July 2002. Back