The Chief Minister
Peter Caruana

In response to Jack Straw's statement to the House of Commons the Chief Minister outlines the way forward.

Ministerial Statement

Full text of an address made on GBC Television 25th. July 2002

Gibraltar has received with understandable and justified anger and dismay the statement by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in the House of Commons on Friday 12th July.

In that statement Mr Straw told Parliament that even though there was not yet any overall agreement with Spain, the UK and Spain were, nevertheless, "in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement" and that these included "the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar." In an interview with Spain's "El Pais" Newspaper today Mr Main confirms that they have already reached agreement on the principle of sovereignty.

I have already said publicly, both here and in the UK, that in my judgement Mr Straw's statement constitutes a gratuitous betrayal of our political rights and legitimate aspirations as a people. The only principle that should underpin the future of Gibraltar is unqualified respect for our right to freely and democratically decide our own future, free of harassment, threats and cajoling. The sovereignty of Gibraltar is not negotiable against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and without our consent.

Mr Straw's statement is especially a betrayal and violation of our right to self determination because if the British Government really believed that Gibraltar has the right to self determination (even if not, according to them, to independence), it would not feel free to transact our sovereignty politically, even in principle, against our wishes,

By his statement, Mr Straw has asserted that, in effect, our right to self determination is limited to the right to say no to the practical implementation of an Anglo-Spanish Agreement based on the principle of joint sovereignty. Our right does not apparently extend even to disentitling the British Government from reaching agreements about the principles applicable to our sovereignty and our other political rights against our wishes.

Mr Straw has also legitimised, in the eyes of the international community, Spain's anachronistic and democratically indefensible sovereignty claim; he would thus convert the people of Gibraltar into little more than privileged squatters in our own homeland and he further risks converting us into the "unreasonable party" in the eyes of the international community if we do not go along with his pre-determined "done deal" on joint sovereignty.

Joint sovereignty with Spain is not acceptable to Gibraltar. This apart, the concept of joint sovereignty is politically and legally misconceived. It is tantamount to permanent colonial status, and has had no successful application anywhere before. Of course, the British Government understands that joint sovereignty as a concept is a dangerous non-sense. That is why Madrid Ambassador Peter Torry says that to properly protect British interests and run a military base there can be "only one person in charge." Precisely so. But why does he think that this sound principle doesn't also apply to the rest of Gibraltar?

Surely he must understand that joint sovereignty means "two persons ultimately in charge"! Clearly the British Government does not believe that was is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The Gibraltar Government's view that Mr Straw's declaration represents a betrayal of our rights as a people is shared widely by all political parties in Gibraltar, by many members of Parliament across all political parties in the UK, by most UK newspapers, and by the overwhelming majority of British public opinion.

Since November last year, the Gibraltar Government has been engaged in an intense political campaign against the British Government making in principle concessions to Spain against our wishes. I have appeared, last November, before the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a session also addressed by Mr Hain; I have conducted hundreds of radio, television and newspaper interviews; a detailed briefing paper has been prepared and circulated to all Labour MPs in answer to a Parliamentary Labour Party briefing document; we have conducted

an extensive newspaper advertising campaign in the UK; I have made numerous private appeals to FCO ministers and officials; the whole of Gibraltar demonstrated on the 18th March asking Mr Straw not to make in-principle concessions against our wishes.

I am clear in my own mind that we have done everything humanly possible to lobby against a done deal on principles. I believe that our efforts have met with substantial success. We have succeeded in making this a national issue in the UK. The majority of the UK media has swung behind Gibraltar; we have enjoyed unprecedented levels of parliamentary support; the Conservative party has condemned the deal and made it clear that, when returned to office, will repudiate any joint sovereignty agreement; the British Public has mobilised in support of Gibraltar. Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown around 80%>of the British public opposed to the British Government's actions; our advertising campaign has now attracted nearly half a million letters of support.

Despite all of this, and ignoring all the pleas that he has heard from Gibraltar, Mr Straw has proceeded to agree with Spain the principle of joint sovereignty. It doesn't matter that there is not yet any overall agreement. The political damage to Gibraltar and our political rights as a people has been done by his statement in Parliament that Britain has agreed the principle of joint sovereignty. Arguably, the fact that there is no overall agreement is, if that is possible, worse, because Spain has not even been required to concede anything in exchange for the massive political concession that Mr Straw has, quite unnecessarily, made about our sovereignty.

We do not know for sure, one way or the other, if they will reach an overall agreement of principles. That appears to depend on a series of so-called "red line issues", non of which are relevant to our underlying and fundamental objection to joint sovereignty. But as an aside comment, it seems that even in respect of these so-called "red line issues", the lines are becoming distinctly pink. The referendum will be delayed for "several years" after the joint declaration; the insistence on exclusive British sovereignty of the military base has become joint sovereignty of the land, but exclusive British control of the base on it, and Spain will be free to share its use; and the insistence that the deal be permanent and "not a slippery slope to full Spanish Sovereignty" has become a statement by Mr Hain today in the "El Pais" Article that "a permanent agreement is an agreement which lasts until another thing replaces it."

In my judgement, and in that of my ministerial colleagues, it is not in Gibraltar's interests simply to let matters rest with Mr Straw's statement. Even if he does not conclude an overall agreement of principles, the political damage is, as I have said, already done by his statement that, as a matter of policy, the BritishGovernment is willing and has broadly agreed to share sovereignty. We cannot risk being seen to have acquiesed in his declaration. If we do, the political ground conceded will be consolidated, irretrievably and for all time.

I have said on several occasions before now that if the British Government conceeded the principle of joint sovereignty and delayed in staging a referendum, we would conduct a referendum ourselves. Our analysis is this. If Mr Straw does not conclude an overall agreement of principles, the political concession on sovereignty contained in his statement will nevertheless remain on the table to our prejudice, and a referendum will never be held by UK unless and until the matter is revisited and resuscitated in the distant future. If he does conclude an agreement, then by his own admission a referendum will only be held after many years, and following a detailed negotiation involving the Gibraltar Government that he knows will not take place. So again, the joint sovereignty concession will remain on the table indefinitely without a referendum! And even if the UK eventually does a referendum, the in-principle concession of sovereignty and other principles agreed will not be put to referendum and will remain politically valid, even after a referendum, as a matter of British Government policy. This has been confirmed this week by British Ambassador to Madrid, Peter Torry. This "catch 22" scenario is the unacceptable political scheme and design that lies atthe very root of this Anglo-Spanish negotiation.

Accordingly, after careful consideration and weighing up of the pros and cons,and after wide consultation in Gibraltar and amongst our friends and supporters outside Gibraltar, the Government has decided that we will conduct our own referendum. The purpose of this is to make Gibraltar's view on joint or any Spanish Sovereignty absolutely clear in a democratically conventional manner. This will deprive Mr Straw's statement of the 12th July, and any future actions based thereon (for example a joint declaration), of all democratic legitimacy in the context of Gibraltar's political rights and wishes. Mr Straw and Mr Hain may say that they will not accept this legally because implementation of a deal may require UK legislation and therefore the UK must organise the referendum. This is a complete and ridiculous red herring. The need for UK legislation will not arise. The British Government will not be able to deny that, for political purposes, our referendum will constitute the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. Any attempt to deny it will lack democratic and political credibility.

The Referendum (which will be supervised by a number of unimpeachable international observers) will take place as soon as logistically possible. There is a lot of preparatory work to do. I expect the Referendum to be in late October. The precise date will be announced later. Preparatory work will start immediately. Much needs to be done. Decisions have to be made about the exact nature of the question and about who will be eligible to vote. Voting lists have to be prepared, international observers have to be approached, arrangements have to be made to allow Gibraltarians abroad to vote by post, and many other administrative issues have to be addressed. I shall, next week, appoint a Committee to oversee the arrangements for the referendum.

In addition to staging this referendum, the Gibraltar Government will continue and widen its political campaign through a series of other measures: -

  • I will renew my request for access to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair;

  • I have sought invitations to address the party conferences of all the main political parties in the UK this Autumn. Already the Conservative Party has invited me to address their full Party Conference.

  • We will seek to establish politically active "Gibraltar Support Groups" throughout the UK in all major towns, cities and rural areas, and in each European Union member state;

  • We will set up a public support register in the UK to enable people to register their support for Gibraltar on a continuous basis and to establish the largest possible data base of supporters in the UK for future lobbying use;

  • So far our political campaign to win the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens has been focused on the UK. This will now be extended, initially to Spain and subsequently throughout Europe. There will be no political hiding place for those who would trample on our democratic right as a people to decide our own future, free of harassment, threats and duress and in accordance with our right to self determination.

The Government has decided that there is little point, at this stage, in holding further mass demonstrations, like the one on 18th March. Instead, National Day this year will focus especially on our rejection of joint sovereignty, as well as the usual theme of self determination. I hope that as many people as possible will therefore stay in Gibraltar this year on 10th September and take part in this event.

In advance of the Referendum, I hope to be able to agree with other political parties and representative bodies the text of a "Declaration of Rejection" of MrStraw's joint sovereignty declaration, which we shall be able to use for lobbying and publicity purposes in the UK and elsewhere.

Throughout the years that I have been in office, I have made the Government's position on dialogue perfectly clear on numerous occasions. We favour reasonable, open agenda dialogue. We believe that this pro-dialogue stance is both desirable in itself and necessary to retain the support of our political friends and the general public in the UK. It is also necessary in order to enable us to continue to occupy the moral high ground in this matter.

But we have also spelt out what reasonable dialogue means. It must be safe and dignified. This requires that we should have our own separate voice and that no agreement should be reached without the Gibraltar Government's agreement.

These have been our two long standing conditions going back to 1996. These conditions were and remain, in our judgement, necessary to enable Gibraltar's safe participation in talks because they enable the Gibraltar Government to fully protect Gibraltar.

Because the second condition has not been met, we have not attended talks.The wisdom of our position has been demonstrated by recent events. Had we been participating in the current talks with both our conditions, we would have been able to prevent the joint sovereignty agreement. Had we been participating without our conditions, that agreement would have emerged from a dialogue legitimised by our presence. This, of course, is the reason why the Foreign Office has refused to meet our second condition. It would have enabled us to frustrate the essesential scheme that they had already planned and agreed with Spain.

We have also always made it equally clear that dialogue must be on an open agenda basis. That will remain the position. And so the Government will not participate in any process of dialogue that is pre-determined to result in the transfer to Spain of any share of the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

Accordingly, even if we have our separate voice at talks, and even if we had our second condition, namely, that there should be no agreements at those talks over the head of the Gibraltar Government, we could not and will not participate in any dialogue governed by or connected to, Mr Straw's Declaration. Why? Because having agreed the principle of joint-sovereignty he has now pre- determined the outcome of future talks in a wholly unacceptable manner. The talks are no longer on an open agenda basis.

Accordingly, whilst the Gibraltar Government's position on dialogue remains unchanged, it is deeply regrettable that Mr Straw's illconceived Declaration hasput our participation in dialogue even further away than it was before. The open- agenda would now have to be effectively restored. This would require an abandonment by the British Government of the joint sovereignty agreement and of negotiations on the transfer of sovereignty to Spain. This does not just apply to the Brussels Process, but indeed to any and all dialogue.

Several things said by Mr Straw to Parliament on Friday 12th July, and indeed tothe Foreign Affairs Committee when he have evidence to them on 19th June, will not be recognisable to people in Gibraltar or to informed people elsewhere.

For example, Mr Straw repeatedly says that our conditions for participation in dialogue have been met and that he cannot therefore understand why we have not attended the talks. This is simply not true. In January this year the Foreign Office, after 6 years, eventually offered an acceptable "two flags, three voices" formula to deliver a separate voice and therefore satisfaction of our first condition. But our second condition, - no agreements without Gibraltar's Government's consent - was flatly refused. He knows this, so it is inexplicable that he should say otherwise. The same applies to Mr Hain.

Mr Straw also told Parliament that virtually everyone to whom he had spoken in Gibraltar recognised that shared sovereignty would lead to more control for Gibraltarians over their own lives. I doubt very much that this could be true, but the Referendum will give us all an opportunity to put the issue beyond reasonable doubt.

When I made a ministerial broadcast on the 12th November 2001, I said that where a violation of our legal rights was open to legal challenge we would mount such challenge. Legal opinions have already been obtained on the issues of self determination, our exclusion from Single Skies and other issues. Legal opinions will now be sought specifically in relation to the consequences of Mr Straw's joint sovereignty statement. The Government will issue whatever legal proceedings, in whatever forum, whether national or international courts or tribunals, as we are properly advised are open to us with a reasonable prospect of success. Here too, I am forming a local legal committee to co-ordinate and steer such possible legal actions.

It would, however, be a error of judgement to believe that we can rely exclusively or even substantially on this course of action. Litigation is, at best, an uncertain course of action. We should regard it, at best, as an additional string in our bow. But I believe that if it succeeds, the political rewards for Gibraltar will be great.

I know that there are many and varying political views and issues in Gibraltar. I also appreciate that Opposition parties have a job to do and that it is important for our democracy that they do it. But there are many vital issues, such as sovereignty, upon which most of us agree. The Government has the democratic electoral responsibility to conduct Gibraltar's affairs. We are doing the best that we can in accordance with our best judgements and within the limits of our human and material resources. I hope that as many political parties, groups and people in Gibraltar will swing behind the Government of the day, on this vital issue, at this crucial time. Division will only assist others at our expense.

I know that most of you fully understand the difference between our campaign to prevent politically damaging declarations of principle, on the one hand, and thefact of our referendum veto on practical implementation of any Anglo-Spanish agreements, on the other hand. And that therefore you fully understand and appreciate that nothing can happen in practice unless Gibraltar approves it in referendum. But as I speak to people in Gibraltar, it is apparent to me that some people are still worrying about actual implementation of Spanish Sovereignty.

I would therefore just like to repeat, that Mr Straw's statement on 12th July, or even if he signs a joint declaration of principles, does not mean that actual Spanish joint sovereignty is a reality in practice. Actual implementation of any agreement, that is joint sovereignty in practice, is only possible if the people of Gibraltar approve it in referendum. I believe that there is absolutely no prospect whatsoever of that happening. The importance of continuing with our campaign is to do all that we can to ensure that our political rights as a people are preserved and not violated.

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