The All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar in the House of Commons said yesterday it was “appalled” at statements made by former Europe Minister Lord Hain on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Today carried ample coverage of Gibraltar yesterday, including live broadcasts from the Rock and an interview with Lord Hain, who once again referred to the joint sovereignty proposal he had championed in 2001 and which Gibraltar fully rejected.
“It is unacceptable that he should try to revive his failed 2001 attempt to cajole the people of Gibraltar into accepting a joint-sovereignty deal under which Britain and Spain would share sovereignty, ignoring the well-established rights of self-determination that the people of Gibraltar have and are entitled to as loyal British subjects,” the Gibraltar group, which bring together MPs from across the political spectrum in the Commons, said in a statement.
“The British Government has repeatedly stated publicly that it remains unreservedly resolute in its commitment never to enter into arrangements under which UK sovereignty over Gibraltar would pass to another State against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and not to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”
“This “double-lock” on sovereignty is the keystone of British policy on Gibraltar and is a position endorsed and shared by all the main parties in the United Kingdom and by the vast majority of MPs and Peers.”
The statement noted that the joint sovereignty proposal was roundly rejected in a 2002 referendum by 98% of Gibraltar.
It added that Spain’s position on joint sovereignty is that this is regarded by Madrid as a stepping stone to taking full sovereignty.
“As Parliamentarians we wholly support the right of the Gibraltarians to decide their own future,” the Gibraltar group added.
“It is Britain’s duty to ensure that the British people of Gibraltar have their rights fully safeguarded and also that their economy is given a level playing field and the support it needs to ensure their quality and way of life.”
‘RAINBOW OF OPPORTUNITY’
The Today programme interviewed numerous guests on the issue of Gibraltar and Brexit, including the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and key figures in the finance sector.
Interviewer Justin Webb was in Gibraltar for the segment and spoke to numerous people here, while other reporters contributed with interviews from the UK and Madrid.
Mr Picardo made clear there was no question of reopening discussions on Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
“We don’t barter with sovereignty today as if we were in the 17th century, with kings passing around sovereignty of pieces of land,” he said.
“What we do is look at the interests of the people. What we do is talk to people and ask them what matters.”
“We are very linked to the UK, we see the world through British eyes and we don’t want to change that.”
“But at the same time, we believe that we should be engaging more closely with Spain.”
“I think we can create, even despite Brexit, a rainbow of opportunities for people who live in the Bay of Gibraltar and that the wealth that Gibraltar creates can lap the shores of the whole of the Bay of Gibraltar, not just the shores of Gibraltar.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable urged the UK Government to be firmer in its defence of Gibraltar’s links to the UK after Brexit.
Sir Vince told the BBC that this was an issue of fundamental principle.
“We have seen off repeated demands by Spain to have control over the Rock, which has been a fundamental part of British interests,” he said.
“We shouldn’t allow Brexit to be used as a cloak for giving away what is a substantial British commitment.”
“Let’s not forget that all of these people want to remain in the UK just as much as the majority of people in Northern Ireland.”
The view from Madrid was somewhat different, of course, although the Spanish Government itself did not offer its perspective.
Instead, the programme interviewed past politicians and political commentators.
Surprisingly perhaps, the most strident view came from a former socialist EU minister, Diego López Garrido.
“It’s unacceptable that Britain says ‘no matter about Gibraltar’, business as usual, nothing to talk,” he said, adding: “No. The British Government should negotiate with the Spanish Government about Gibraltar.”
Charles Powell, the head of the respected think tank Real Instituto Elcano, said Brexit meant the EU would now favour Spain’s position on any discussion on Gibraltar.
“In a sense Britain I think has to accept that from now on, the Commission will on Spain’s side, because Spain is a member and Britain is not,” he said.
And he added that Gibraltar was not the biggest issue for the UK and Spain arising from Brexit, given that over 250,000 Britons reside in Spain.
“This is something that Spanish public opinion can never understand, why this obsession with Gibraltar and this total lack of concern about the Brits who live in Spain and the consequences that Brexit will have for them,” he said.
Julio Somoano, the head of news and Spain’s state-owned national broadcaster, said Gibraltar was “a very sensitive topic” for Spanish diplomacy.
But he said the vital importance of trade and investment between the UK and Spain lay at the core of why Spain had softened its stance on Gibraltar against the backdrop of Brexit.
“The relationship between the UK and Spain is so important, and we do not want Gibraltar to loom over the Brexit negotiations,” he said.
ON THE GROUND
The Today programme also interviewed a number of Gibraltarians on the ground, sampling their views on Brexit and relations with Spain, and exploring developments in Gibraltar’s economy.
Interviewer Justin Webb probed local interviewees on Gibraltarian identity and why they wished to remain British, although he drew an angry response on social media after he joked with one that “you look Spanish”.
Kaelan Joyce, one of the interviewees, also took Mr Webb out into British Gibraltar territorial waters.
“I am glad we are leaving the EU, personally,” Mr Joyce said.
“The way the EU has been acting in terms of Gibraltar, I think it’s appalling.”
“They are willing to sacrifice on a silver platter for Spain to do whatever they want with us, [in order] to punish the UK for leaving the EU.”
Mr Joyce added that anyone who though Spain would drop its aspirations over Gibraltar’s sovereignty or even soften its stance was being “very naïve”.
“Spain’s agenda on Gibraltar will always be the same,” he added.