Gibraltar's Right to Self Determination Under Threat
The European Journal - December 2002
The Journal of the European Foundation
I have the privilege of being one of Gibraltar's nominated representatives in the European Parliament pending their acquisition of voting rights for their own directly elected MEPs which should be in place by the time of the next Euroelection in 2004 when it is envisaged they will be attached to one of the 12 regions of the United Kingdom, most probably London which I represent.
On November 7th the people of Gibraltar will vote to decide the future of their homeland. In all likelihood they will choose almost unanimously to maintain their close sovereign links with Britain, as they did overwhelmingly in the last referendum in 1967. However, regardless of the force of their opinion, it seems certain that Tony Blair will ignore their voice and is bent on giving away sole British sovereignty of the Rock. As one of only 12 remaining overseas territories of Britain it has a long history of loyalty to its mother country and courage in adversity; its military strategic role served this country well both during the Second World war and more recently during the Falklands and Gulf wars. It is worth remembering that Gibraltar was last Spanish in 1704 (i.e. 298 years ago). In the last 1300 years, Gibraltar has been Spanish for only 242 of them. So we have been there longer. In fact they have been British for longer than the majority of UN member countries have existed.
In agreeing to share sovereignty, Mr Blair will disregard the opinion of the Ministry of Defence, which continues to argue for the strategic importance of Gibraltar, although recently and disgracefully the government suggested that sole British control of some of the military bases might remain, as if the people's rights were secondary to the military considerations. Mr Blair will try and overlook the founding Constitution which states that 'Her Majesty's government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes' by conveniently ignoring the will of the Gibraltarian people.
Although recently Peter Hain, the Europe Minister, in a reply to Conservative MEPs stated that 'the final say will be the Gibraltarians' as the Labour government will hold a binding referendum of its own sometime in the future to ratify the 'Joint Declaration of Intent' which until then will remain the official British position. What he failed to mention is that this period of time will be used by the Labour government to pressurise the people of Gibraltar to agree to the negotiated 'agreement in principle'. The carrot will be a mixture of UK and EU financial aid. The stick could well be the threat of branding the Rock as a haven of smugglers and money launderers resulting in the suspension or complication of their offshore banking rights. This would conveniently ignore the fact that even the US tax authorities recognise it to be a well regulated offshore financial centre.
Identity, loyalty, and nationhood are clearly not part of Blair's 'Cool Britannia'. Instead the government's policy seems to be motivated purely and simply by Mr Blair's determination to build a stronger Anglo-Spanish alliance within the European Union. British Conservatives also want good relations both bilaterally and multilaterally with Spain but not at the expense of the democratic rights of Gibraltarians.
The talks between the British and Spanish governments have already effectively decided that the peninsula should enjoy dual sovereignty. In the process, they have deliberately and steadfastly ignored the Gibraltarian view, limiting Chief Minister Peter Caruana to the role of an observer, as part of the British delegation. At the same time, the Spanish government continues to expressly oppose Gibraltar's right to a referendum.
Ironically Spain insists that Morocco conducts a referendum in the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara to decide whether or not it wishes to be independent. Spain's attempts to prevent a referendum in Gibraltar are a clear acknowledgement that the vote will go the wrong way. The central thrust of Spain's argument is, therefore, not to respect the opinion of the people, but simply to suggest that the Rock as a peninsula is logically a part of the mainland. However, such a contention is patently untrue except for purely geographically.
Despite the proximity between the two, Gibraltar's culture has not grown up around Spain. Rather it has evolved around Britain, and a love of British nationality, and in particular the history of British military and naval power. Its inhabitants include people of Genoese, Maltese, Portuguese, Jewish, as well as British descent, many of whom came to service the needs of the garrison and dockyards. Spain, therefore, also makes the ridiculously anachronistic claim that, as they are not ethnically British, Gibraltarians have no kinship links with Britain.
Spain's position is undermined by her view that, even though the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are claimed by Morocco, their Spanish ethnicity ensures that these exclaves will remain forever territorially part of Spain. We all witnessed the tenacity of Spain in expelling the Moroccan military from Parsley Island, which is only 200 metres from the African coastline. In a speech in the Foreign Affairs Committee, I likened this incident to "two bald men arguing over a comb". Less well known is Spain's continued failure to return the disputed territory of Olivenza to Portugal, as specified in the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, which Spain signed and Portugal no longer seeks to enforce.
Perhaps most disgraceful of all however, is the fact that pressure has been exerted on Gibraltar by not just the Spanish government, but also by our own Labour government. Within Gibraltar and indeed generally, there is a legitimate fear that though the current proposal is only for shared sovereignty between Spain and Britain, the agreement would eventually lead to sole Spanish control of the peninsula. Such an outcome is an anathema to the Gibraltarian people, and that is why they will vote against the deal. Yet if our government persists in betraying them, then we cannot blame them for seeking their right to self-determination to become independent. Spain says that Gibraltarians cannot exercise self-determination because they are "an enclave", and are not an indigenous people, but rather the descendants of colonists.
In February, I met Chief Minister Peter Caruana in Strasbourg, and proposed the fallback position of an independent ministate of Gibraltar, with control of both domestic and foreign policy. Along the lines of the modern Andorran constitution. At the same time, the monarchs of Britain and Spain could remain as joint heads of state, without any political powers, and with sovereignty vested in the people of the Rock. Such a solution would allow the Gibraltarian people to continue their links to Britain and still enjoy and guarantee their own individual culture, partly satisfy the Spanish dimension, and allow Britain to maintain her valuable strategic interest in the area. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be enough for Spain.
In my view, and to conclude, the current talks should be suspended following the landslide result of the referendum which has demonstrated that there is no consent whatsoever to the proposed changes in sovereignty. In the meantime here in the parliament I continue to bring pressure to end the border restrictions, which contravene EU Treaties, and the restrictions on phone lines and mobile roaming rights for Gib Telecom, which ignore EU competition law.
The Conservative Party is committed to repeal any shabby deal that sells-out the express wishes of the people of Gibraltar. It undoubtedly will do so when it returns to government.
Dr Charles Tannock is Conservative Foreign Affairs Spokesman in the European Parliament.