Supporters of the Falkland Islanders in their rejection of Argentina's sovereignty claim are keeping close watch on the British Government's attempts to persuade Gibraltarians to agree to shared Anglo-Spanish sovereignty.
This course of action is regarded by Falklands supporters as an unwelcome precedent likely to encourage Argentina to intensify its campaign over the Falklands.
When representatives of the Falkland Islands Association have their requested meeting with the new Foreign Office Minister, Mr Bill Rammell, probably early in 2003, they will seek reassurances that whatever happens over Gibraltar, it will have no effect on United Kingdom policy that Falklands sovereignty is not negotiable.
Both Falkland Islanders and Gibraltarians have been repeatedly assured by the UK Government that there can be no change in sovereignty status of either territory without the consent of the people.
The big difference is that the UK Government is trying to persuade the people of Gibraltar to make concessions on shared sovereignty in exchange for an end to Spanish harassment and closer mutual co-operation.
The latest assurances by United Kingdom Ministers in a debate in Parliament add nothing new and do little to assuage the fears of Gibraltarians. The Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Amos, repeated the Government's desire to secure a stable and prosperous future for the people of Gibraltar and the surrounding region to enable Gibraltar to realise fully its potential. But she re-awakened anxiety when she declared that the only way to achieve this is through a negotiated resolution of the 300-year-old dispute with Spain on all issues, including sovereignty.
She repeated the assurance that if agreement could be reached on a comprehensive settlement, the whole package would be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum and they would decide.
The pledges she repeated bear similarity to the principles outlined in previous attempts to solve the Falklands sovereignty issue about strengthening internal self-government, retaining British traditions, the British way of life and the right to British nationality.
She denied that Britain had rejected the recent referendum without taking into account Gibraltarians' resistance to shared sovereignty. She insisted that consent by the people of Gibraltar is central to the UK's approach, but constructive dialogue has to be the way ahead.
Harold Briley, London