It was 2002 when Spain and UK had agreed the broad terms of joint sovereignty over Gibraltar, including inclusion in Schengen and the Customs Union. But the deal unraveled once the then Gibraltar Chief Minister Peter Caruana held the referendum later that year. This is the story as told by former Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle.
In an excerpt from his book, published in La Razon last weekend Aznar tells how the announcement to the Commons by Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, in July of 2002 brought Spain close to “reintegrating sovereignty over Gibraltar.”
He describes how the UK position evolved from the proposals formulated by Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes in the late 1990s which had mooted 50 to 100 years of joint sovereignty before an eventual return of the Rock to Spain.
John Major’s Conservative government in its decline was not prepared to take such a proposal on but, argues Sr Aznar, with Tony Blair there was a sense that UK and Spain could have very strong and productive relations if the Gibraltar issue could be resolved.
Aznar confirms Mr Blair’s own previously published recollection of the discussions whilst on holiday with the Aznar family in Doñana.
“Blair and I agreed to have a negotiating process [over Gibraltar] which we wanted to produce concrete moves and which would conclude with a global agreement that each side could present to its respective Parliament. Not only as acceptable, but as an agreement that was doable and desirable for the bilateral relationship and the wellbeing of the citizens of Gibraltar and the neighboring area.”
Aznar says that in July 2001 Josep Pique, Spain’s Foreign Minister, and Mr Straw agreed to re-launch the Brussels Process of 1984. That November Aznar and Blair were together again in Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official residence. There they agreed the parameters in sufficient detail to set the process going, says Aznar.
What followed were intense diplomatic negotiations. By May 2002 the two sides had, says Aznar, agreed a detailed declaration that would set out the final accord.
According to the text set out UK and Spain shared the objective of resolving their differences over Gibraltar and, in this way, would provide Gibraltar with a “modern and sustainable status” including participation within the EU political framework.
The deal would include sharing sovereignty over Gibraltar including the isthmus. It would also guarantee that Gibraltarians would preserve their traditions, customs and way of life whilst UK and Spain would share, as joint sovereignty holders, the “appropriate” responsibilities including “defense, foreign affairs, control of maritime and air space and of the frontiers, immigration, asylum” and responsibility for those measures that could be necessary to ensure the Rock’s economic and financial stability.
According to Aznar, whose remarks largely echo the points also made two years ago by the then (2001-2002) Europe Minister Peter Hain in his memoirs, the two countries also undertook to protect and promote Gibraltar’s interests in the EU and internationally.
The pact would see the countries push for EU funding for Gibraltar and the region and inclusion of the Rock in Schengen and the Customs Union.
But the proposed deal was not for a once and for all solution as Hain had said at the time. Instead Aznar suggests that when Straw made his announcement three points remained to be negotiated.
For Spain the agreement would have to have a time element and that a second move to make Gibraltar wholly Spanish would have to follow. Gibraltarians, he says, would have been allowed to choose and keep their nationality as British or Spanish.
Secondly, Spain was not willing to accept self-determination or giving Gibraltarians a referendum on joint-sovereignty, but instead said this would be in a pact bilaterally agreed and the people allowed to hold a referendum on the status of self-government which Gibraltar would have.
Thirdly Spain wanted more than just joint use of the military base on the Rock.
But then, according to Aznar the issue began to get more complicated. He perceived a split in the Foreign Office
The move by then Chief Minister Peter Caruana to hold a referendum in Gibraltar accompanied by strong lobbying in London was sufficient to scupper Tony Blair’s room for maneuver and, with that, the continuation of negotiations.
Aznar goes on to condemn the approach taken by the PSOE successors and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos whose trilateral talks he describes as gravely prejudicial for Spain’s position. “A weak abandonment of key elements of Spain’s foreign policy over years,” he says.
Two years ago former Europe Minister Peter Hain in his book ‘Outside In’ said that it was Chief minister Caruana’s willingness to contemplate an Andorra model for a Gibraltar solution that in 2001 spurred the quite different joint-sovereignty plans which Britain pursued
Mr Hain revealed that on April 18, 2002 a day of negotiations clinched all aspects of the agreement. He and Foreign Office’s Emyr Jones Parry, as well as counterpart Ramon de Miguel, left the negotiations content. But Diez Hochleitner, more of a hardliner attached to the traditional full claim had rushed off to speak to Sr Pique evidently expressing his unease. It all began to unravel.
Spain had an agreement in its hands but got cold feet. “Jose Maria Aznar,” says Mr Hain, “had wobbled at the last minute.”
In the talks not only had agreement on the base been reached Spain “conceded a referendum on Gibraltar would have to occur (their worry had been establishing a precedent for the Basques) and accepted co-sovereignty could not open the door to full Spanish sovereignty”. Now, ironically, Spain had already thrown cold water on the plan, before Jack Straw’s Commons statement and before the Gibraltar referendum he was describing as eccentric.