Spain and Argentina drew a stinging rebuke from Britain, Gibraltar and the Falklands yesterday after calling for bilateral sovereignty talks over the Rock and the south Atlantic islands.
The two countries were accused of ‘ganging up’ on Gibraltar and the Falklands and ignoring the wishes of people in both territories to remain British.
Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, linked Gibraltar and Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands after meeting his Argentine counterpart, Susana Malcorra, in Buenos Aires earlier this week.
Speaking at a press conference in the Argentine capital, he said the UK should negotiate an end to “two colonial situations” in line with United Nations resolutions.
But the British Government said the UN’s decolonisation criteria was ‘outdated and no longer relevant’, adding that it would defend the right to self-determination in both cases.
“The people of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain UK overseas territories and we will respect their wishes,” a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told the Chronicle.
And in an unprecedented joint statement, the Gibraltar Government and the Government of the Falkland Islands pulled no punches in responding to the statements made in Buenos Aires.
“The two Foreign Ministers have displayed a remarkable lack of knowledge about the complexities and the differences between Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands,” the two governments said.
“They have wrongly proceeded to target our countries as if the historical background and legal issues were one and the same when clearly they are not.”
The Spanish minister’s trip to Buenos Aires came just two days after the 34th anniversary of the start of the 1982 Falklands war.
Sr García-Margallo discussed Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falklands during a meeting Ms Malcorra covering wider bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
“We reiterate to the United Kingdom, here, our absolute disposition to reinitiate [sovereignty] negotiations,” he said.
Sr García-Margallo also quoted a recent statement by Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who marked the anniversary by saying “…the Falklands issue must be resolved using the force of dialogue, the force of truth and the force of reason.”
These words, the Spanish minister added, were “applicable” to Gibraltar too.
Argentina and Spain “…want to end these two colonial situations in the Malvinas and Gibraltar through bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom, in accordance with the mandate from the United Nations,” Sr García-Margallo told reporters.
“In order to resolve these issues it is essential that we put into practice what was agreed on the various resolutions of the United Nations.”
The response from the British Government was swift and unequivocal.
“The UK’s position on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands is entirely consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, which includes the principle of self-determination.”
“We will continue to make clear this position within the United Nations, and support representatives of Gibraltar and the Falklands to do so.”
“The British Government believes that the UN’s decolonisation process is outdated and no longer has a relevant role to play in respect of any of the British Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.”
The Gibraltar Government and the Government of the Falkland Islands said both the Rock and the Falklands were on the UN’s list of non-self-governing territories.
They said the only way they could be removed from this list was through the freely and democratically expressed wishes of their respective peoples.
“The wishes of the people must be paramount,” they said in their joint statement.
“It is a fundamental principle of international law that the right to self-determination comes first with regard to territories on the list and this has been the criteria that the United Nations has applied throughout the post-War history of decolonisation.”
“This cannot be changed overnight on the whim of the Foreign Ministers of Spain and Argentina.”
“It also does not say much for the democratic credentials of two large countries that they should seek to gang up in this way in order to bully two very small territories and in the process completely ignore the right of their people to choose what they want to be.”
“Referenda held in both Gibraltar and in the Falkland Islands have made those wishes abundantly clear.”
The Spanish minister’s comments in Argentina also drew a reaction from the GSD in Gibraltar.
Opposition leader Daniel Fetham said they showed that Sr García-Margallo was “disconnected from reality”.
“There is no prospect of a Gibraltar Government of any political persuasion agreeing to negotiations on sovereignty with Spain and still less agreeing to bilateral negotiations,” he said.
“The sovereignty of Gibraltar is not negotiable and these statements achieve absolutely nothing for anyone.”
Mr Feetham said Spain should instead set aside this issue and progress cooperation at local level for the benefit of the population on both sides of the border.
“Politics is about people and improving the standard of living and the security of people and their families,” he said.
“Creating jobs and business opportunities will help people in a real way.”
“Sabre rattling on sovereignty achieves absolutely nothing particularly for all those unemployed and looking for jobs on the Spanish side of the border.”
“Gibraltar is an opportunity for those people and the sooner Mr Garcia-Margallo understands that, the sooner Gibraltar and Spain could reach agreements on local cooperation for the benefit of everyone.”
During the Spanish minister’s visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Spain said they would reactivate bilateral mechanisms for cooperation that had been “dormant”, promoting political and trade relations.
“We addressed all the issues of the agenda and the regional situation and decided to re-launch existing bilateral mechanisms, which have been dormant for too long”, said Ms Malcorra.
Another meeting of the political forum between Spain and Argentina has been set for the second half of this year.
“We will again promote private business mechanisms to work on a specific agenda,” she said in a statement issued by the Argentine Foreign Ministry.
Sra Malcorra said Spain was the second-largest direct investor in Argentina but that investments had dropped off in recent months.
“We are working on an investment agenda and we expect Spain to play an active role as investor in our national infrastructure program,” she said.