talks about the
on BBC Radio Four
BBC RADIO FOUR
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF AN INTERVIEW GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY,
JACK STRAW FOR BBC RADIO 4, FRIDAY 26 JULY 2002
The governments in London and Madrid have both moved quickly to say
they'll refuse to accept the validity of the referendum proposed by
Gibraltar's Prime Minister Peter Caruana for the autumn. His aim is
to derail the negotiations on shared sovereignty between the two
countries. Jack Straw and his Spanish opposite number have been
working on a deal which would improve the lot of Gibraltarians to
such an extent that they might look more kindly, one day, on a new
relationship with Spain. Mr Caruana regards those discussions as the
prelude to a sell out. This morning I asked Mr Straw to give his
verdict on Mr Caruana's referendum plan.
My concern is that the day after the referendum result the people of
Gibraltar are going to wake up and they'll still be faced with the
same reality as they were and had been the day before. And the
reality is that there is a dispute with Spain, Mr Caruana himself
has recognised that and he's also said there ought to be a dialogue
with Spain to seek to resolve it. That's what we've been trying to
do. Of course I understand the emotions that are generated around
sovereignty and I take the issue very seriously. But sometimes, and
paradoxically, by conceding a little theoretical sovereignty you can
end up with far greater control over your lives.
But that's what you've got to try and persuade the Gibraltarians of.
Indeed and one cannot do that at the level of obstruction which is,
frankly, the level at which this debate is currently taking place.
But when we are able to demonstrate if we are by virtue initially of
a provisional understanding or agreement with Spain and then all the
details in which I want the government of Gibraltar to be heavily
involved. I'd like them to be involved in the provisional agreement
but so far they've been unwilling to do so. If we only actually sit
down and say to people look in return for losing some theoretical
sovereignty what you're going to get is a huge improvement in the
quality of your life and the control over your life and a resolution
to this long running dispute...
...I understand what you're saying there. Clearly you think there's
a deal that could be reached which would offer such benefits to
people in Gibraltar that they would be prepared to concede some
theoretical sovereignty. But Mr Caruana says there's no such thing
as theoretical sovereignty, it's all or nothing. And I don't see how
you're going to overcome that huge burden.
Well it's interesting how opinions do change, not necessarily in
Gibraltar here but over the years I've been in politics one has been
told that X can never happen and then Y does time and again. And
sometimes you have to have a certain cathartic process if you like
before there is a change. Now I understand the feeling in Gibraltar,
I've understood it all the way through and that's why I think it
would be a very brave bookmaker who offered you any odds on a yes
vote or one that disagreed with the view of the government of
Gibraltar. But it won't change the reality and it's the realities
that we've been trying to deal with.
So if the referendum goes ahead whatever it says your negotiations
with Spain will continue regardless?
No I haven't said that. Our discussions with Spain will continue
because there are further meetings of the Brussels process planned.
And when you talk to Gibraltarians of course they've got very strong
views about sovereignty but they also want the issues of the border
dealt with. They want the issues of phone access, just general
social, commercial intercourse across the border dealt with. And
some of them, I think the wiser councils, recognise that Gibraltar's
niche status; half in and half out of the EU based on tax
advantages, is something that can't last. Not to do with any
position that I've taken but because of objective realities about
the world economy, so that's got to change.
But does the referendum really make no difference? Can you just roll
over it and pretend it hasn't happened or will it make a difference
and will it disrupt things at all?
Well the simple fact is it will be there but it won't make any
difference, which is why I think that it is a rather eccentric and
rather expensive idea to tell us what we knew already - that it
won't make any difference to the realities of the people in
Gibraltar and it's those realities which we are trying to deal with.
Ones which Mr Caruana has himself recognised because he says in
terms there's a dispute with Spain. He's also said we need a
dialogue, well we're trying to have a dialogue to resolve the
dispute. And what we've always said all the way through is that if
and when there were final proposals which in turn had been discussed
with the people of Gibraltar they would only be agreed by the
British Government, if they had been positively endorsed by a
referendum in Gibraltar organised by the United Kingdom Government.
But we have always been a very long way from that.