Former UK Europe Minister Peter Hain has said that the failure to recognise Spain’s historic claim over the Rock is the root of the issues Gibraltar has with its neighbours. Hain made his comments during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He also suggested that Gibraltar reopens negotiations aimed at sharing sovereignty with Spain, according to a piece by Eyleen Sheil published in the Gibraltar Chronicle.
During the interview Mr Hain said that the first thing was Gibraltar’s rights: “Gibraltar’s rights and the rights of Gibraltarian citizens have to be protected there is no question about that, they can’t be treated in this way.”
He recalled when he tried to negotiate a resolution in 2002, under the Tony Blair administration. Asked why his negotiations didn’t work, he said: “Well in the end we negotiated an agreement on the 18th of April in Madrid, which protected Gibraltar’s rights”.
Referring to the effect the agreement could have had on Gibraltarians he added: “They remained British; they could have everything they enjoy now from a pint of beer to British citizenships and all their rights and customs and way of life.”
“But in the end, despite me having shaken hands with my opposite member the European Minister for Spain, Ramon De Miguel, they got cold feet at the last minute. The Spanish Prime Minister Aznar and Foreign Minister Piqué backed off, much to Miguel and my regrets,” he added.
Mr Hain said that it was an historic opportunity to have joint sovereignty which would have protected Gibraltarians’ way of life and they could have remained British citizens but also recognise Spain’s historic claim which is the root of this, stating that he believed Gibraltar needs to revisit the whole negotiations. He said that the broad terms of the agreement which were written up in July 2002 are already in the House of Commons and that the text is there ready to be used.
Mr Hain went on to say that Spanish people feel that “300 year ago Britain wrenched a part of Spain away from them”.
When asked if revisiting the negotiations will mean you have to review how Gibraltar views Spain and persuading Gibraltar to accept, if not share, full sovereignty and if Gibraltarians should be persuading to think different about their position, Mr Hain said; “Yes I do, there were many elements in Gibraltar’s society, in particular the business community, who strongly backed what I was trying to do and the stance of the last Government on this”.
He then compared the situation in Gibraltar to that of the situation during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He said they also had a ‘we will not surrender’ attitude 30 to 40 years ago and that attitude has now changed.
Mr Hain said that resolution is possible and what you need is political leadership, the rights of Gibraltar on one hand, Spain’s historic claim to sovereignty on the other hand and Britain’s historic treaty obligations. He believes if the agreement is not looked at again and if we “don’t go down that road”, then the issue with Spain will be a running sore that will flare up and it will die down, but in the end, Gibraltar’s rights will not be guaranteed.
Referring back to the 2002 negotiations, he said the deal would have “transformed life for Gibraltarians” as “there would have been an open border, they would have had aeroplane access, telephone access, all the things which are bedevilling them at the moment”.
However Peter Hain views on Gibraltar are not those of the Labour Party, said Hadleigh Roberts, Labour Party candidate to the European Parliament for Gibraltar.
“The Labour Party continues to respect the Gibraltarian right to self-determination and their right to remain under British sovereignty” said Roberts. “To that extent, Peter Hain’s comments on joint-sovereignty were not a description of current Labour policy”.
“We remain convinced that the current tension must be resolved through dialogue, engagement and respect for the rights of Gibraltarian citizens,” he added.
Roberts - a fluent Spanish speaker who holds a degree in Spanish politics and history - said: “This dialogue must take place through the trilateral forum, which Labour created when in office. It is regrettable that the current Spanish central Government is the only party that refuses to participate in the trilateral forum”.