As negotiations over Spain’s entry to the European Union grew tense in 1983, King Juan Carlos twice told British officials it was not to Spain’s advantage to recover Gibraltar, according to newly declassified documents released to the UK National Archives.
At a meeting with Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in September 1983, the King agreed that a “gradual approach” was needed and that the opinions of the population of Gibraltar must be respected.
He told Mr Howe and Sir Richard Parsons, Britain’s ambassador to Spain at the time, that Gibraltar “was an emotional issue and we must be sensitive towards public opinion and to the demands of national interests”.
Then, with what Sir Richard describes as “a burst of his usual frankness”, he told the group, which included the Spanish Foreign Minister’s private secretary, that “in any case it was not to the advantage of Spain to recover Gibraltar in the near future.”
“If she did so, King Hassan would immediately reactivate the Moroccan claim to Ceuta and Melilla,” the King reportedly said, according to secret documents released this week under the 30-year rule.
This was not the only time the King conveyed his private views on Gibraltar. In July 1983, the King called Sir Richard to voice concerns about what he described as the “disturbing” situation over Gibraltar and the apparent lack of contact between British and Spanish ministers.
Reporting his encounter in a telegram back to London, the Ambassador wrote: “The King emphasized, as he has done with me before that the requirement was to take some step over Gibraltar which would keep public opinion quiet for the time being.”
“It should be clearly understood in private by both governments that in fact Spain did not really seek an early solution to the sovereignty problem,” Sir Richard’s note added.
“If she recovered Gibraltar, King Hassan of Morocco would immediately activate his claim to Ceuta and Melilla.”
“The two foreign ministers should reach a private understanding between them, differentiate between their actual aim and the methods used to propitiate public opinion on both sides.”
Last August the Chronicle reported on another document – declassified last summer - that also recorded the Spanish King’s concern that pushing Spanish claim over the Rock could spark a reaction in Morocco.
In a memorandum a British diplomat to the Thatcher government noted the King’s view that it was not in Spain’s interest to recover Gibraltar.
“The King of Morocco has repeatedly warned him that if Spain appeared to be on the verge of recovering the Rock, Morocco would make an immediate bid for Ceuta and Melilla,” the diplomatic note stated.
It later added: “It was for these reasons...that he thought the Gibraltar issue had to be handled on a long-term basis and in the wider perspective of Spain’s relationship with Britain and the West in general. He hoped his Foreign Minister (Fernando Moran) shared these views.”
Sir Richard reflected on his work as Britain’s Ambassador to Madrid in a 2005 interview, offering colorful insight into what he described as “an interesting time”.
“The Spanish liked to say that Ceuta was not the same as Gibraltar, that it was an integral part of Spain,” he said. ”Of course that’s nonsense, it’s a very comparable situation”.
In the wide-ranging interview, the Ambassador spoke about how Spain had been pressed to open the border as it moved to enter the European Union and NATO. But he also described how Britain had worked to ensure that its bilateral relations with Spain remained positive.
“It would have been unthinkable for Spain to join the European Union and NATO so long as they kept the frontier shut, because you couldn’t have part of the EU or NATO shut off, it would be ludicrous and the British public opinion wouldn’t have tolerated it either,” Sir Richard said.
“So in a way we had a veto, but we had to deploy that very carefully because we wanted the goodwill of Spain” said Sir Richard. (Gibraltar Chronicle).-