The United Kingdom's position on Gibraltar's territorial waters was made clear in unequivocal terms to a group of MPs charged with scrutinizing British foreign affairs, it has emerged, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons requested information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after a ship operated by Odyssey Marine Exploration was detained by Spain 3.5 miles off Europa Point last July. The response from the FCO was published this week in the committee's annual report on overseas territories and the language is uncharacteristically blunt. "We categorically reject the Spanish view, and we do not allow Spain's assertion that Gibraltar has no territorial waters to go unchallenged," wrote Richard Cooke, head of the Parliamentary Relations Team at the FCO, in his response to the MPs. He also made clear, however, that Spain likewise rejects the British view. The British Government claims three nautical miles of territorial waters around Gibraltar and believes that under international law, the nine miles beyond that limit are high seas and cannot be claimed by another State. Spain, however, claims those nine miles as Spanish waters. It was in this area that Odyssey's ship was detained. "Spain maintains that the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which granted sovereignty over Gibraltar to Britain, ceded only the town and castle, together with the Rock's fortifications and its port," Mr Cooke told MPs. "Spain therefore disputes our claim that, as a result of later developments in international lawÃÂ¢€Ã‚Â¦Gibraltar generates its own territorial waters". The Foreign Office also stated to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that independence for Gibraltar would only be an option with Spanish consent because of the Treaty of Utrecht. FOC submitted a memorandum in response to an invitation from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to provide information on the exercise by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of its responsibilities in relation to the Overseas Territories. "Sovereignty," it observes," is also an ongoing issue for Gibraltar, where Spain recognizes British sovereignty over the Rock, but not over the isthmus, waters surrounding the Rock (with the exception of the port), or adjoining the isthmus, or airspace over the entire Territory. The UK supports the right or principle of self-determination, but this must be exercised in accordance with the UN Charter and with other treaty obligations". "In Gibraltar's case this includes the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, whereby sovereignty over the Rock was ceded to Britain, but the Treaty provides that, were the UK to relinquish sovereignty, the right of first refusal would be given to Spain. Thus independence would only be an option with Spanish consent. The UK has repeatedly made it clear, however, that it will not enter into any arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state, against their freely and democratically agreed wishes. Furthermore the UK has made it clear it will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content."