Britain will not negotiate with Spain on the question of sovereignty over Gibraltar without the approval of the colony's residents, Premier David Cameron said this week during a visit by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The British leader spoke at a joint press conference with Rajoy after the two men met for the first time since the Spaniard took office in December.
We have spoken about Gibraltar and the foreign ministers will continue talking in the future. We have different positions, but we will keep talking, Rajoy said.
Cameron, however, was more categorical, stressing that Britain's position in favour of self-determination for Gibraltarians has not changed.
It's important to understand that London will not enter into talks on Gibraltar without consulting the wishes of the Rock's residents, the British prime minister said, before describing the current ties between Spain and Britain as excellent.
The Rock currently has some 30.000 residents, who overwhelmingly rejected a 2002 proposal for Britain to share sovereignty over the territory with Spain.
Rajoy's conservative Popular Party government signalled last month that it would seek to revive talks with London on Gibraltar.
The Socialist administration of Rodriguez Zapatero that took office in Madrid in 2004 decided to put the sovereignty dispute to one side in favour of cooperative efforts to benefit people living on both sides of the Spain-Gibraltar border. The tripartite understanding included the UK, Spain and Gibraltar.
The Spanish daily ABC quoted Spanish Foreign Ministry sources as saying that UK had rejected a Spanish proposal for quadripartite talks to replace the tripartite process now rejected by Madrid.
ABC said that Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has replied by letter to his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, who formally wrote to Mr Hague asking for sovereignty talks, on this point.
But in spite of agreeing to disagree on Gibraltar, the main issue of the Cameron-Rajoy talks focused on the drastic labour reforms and budget cuts the Spanish Conservative is implementing under recommendation from the EU and which turned out 1.5 million people on Sunday to protest in Spanish cities.
However Britain so far has refused to participate in the rescue of the battered EU economies, although the UK is undergoing a similar process, and is highly dependent on trade with the European Union.
Spain is the UK seventh’s export market and the eighth importer. Over 400 Spanish corporations have investments in the UK including Ferrovial, which owns several airports; Scottish Power was acquired by Iberdrola and Santander has taken over several British banks.
Likewise the UK is the second investor in Spain and the tourist exchange between both countries is very significant.