As tension with Spain escalates the British Government made clear that it would take “all necessary and proportionate” measures to maintain the integrity British sovereignty of Gibraltar and its waters. Europe Minister David Lidington set out the position in a letter to the Governor, Sir Adrian Johns, in response to the petition organised by the Defenders of Gibraltar.
Sir Adrian delivered the 10,000-signature petition in person, prompting a tough response from the minister.
Mr Lidington noted that the group had “vigorously” exercised a democratic right to contribute to the debate on issues of vital importance to the Rock. He recognised that the large number of people who had signed the petition was a clear indication of the deep level of concern in Gibraltar.
“The UK understands the pressures Gibraltar’s citizens face,” he said. “Thus we do not rule out any options in responding to Spanish actions.”
“All contingencies need to be planned for and I and my colleagues stand ready to protect Gibraltar’s long-term prosperity and the safety of its population.”
He added: “As I make clear every time I discuss issues concerning Gibraltar, the UK is committed to defending its sovereignty and will pursue all necessary and proportionate actions to ensure it is not compromised.”
Mr Lidington said the UK’s recent decision to summon the Spanish ambassador to London for a grilling over incursions in Gibraltar waters was “a potent public demonstration” of that strategy.
In his letter to the Governor, Mr Lidington also set out the UK’s position in respect of bilateral sovereignty talks with Spain. “As you know the position of the United Kingdom on sovereignty remains clear and unchanged,” he wrote.
“The UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes.” Furthermore “the UK will not enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content”.
In a statement, the Governor welcomed the Minister’s robust response to the petition and agreed that no options should be ruled out in responding to Spanish action.
In Madrid Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel García-Margallo, said Spain and the UK had no option but to ‘cooperate in the environmental management of European nature sites in Gibraltar waters’.
García-Margallo said both countries had a legal obligation to enforce EU environmental directives in the “disputed waters” and recalled that the EU had approved both British and Spanish nature sites in the same area of sea.
That meant the two countries had “positive, concurrent competencies”. He added: “we have to come to an agreement; we have a specific problem that requires cooperation and negotiation in order to resolve it and avoid a conflict every day.”
García-Margallo said only the UK and Spain could take decisions in those negotiations, but that the UK insisted that Gibraltar must be involved too. “We have two jurisdictions that are obliged to enforce European environmental directives,” the Spanish minister said.
“Don’t forget that it is sovereign states that are responsible for ensuring compliance with European directives, and that is Spain and the UK.”
García-Margallo said that if Gibraltar was at the talks, then so too must the regional authority in Spain. He cited the Junta de Andalucia in that context.
The Spanish minister also set out Spain’s position on sovereignty and said his government “has neither renounced, nor will it ever renounce” its claim over Gibraltar.