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Gibraltar News

26th January 1998

"Nobody wants to break with Britain"

In Full: Chief Minister's interview in Breakfast With Frost

Sir David Frost set the scene yesterday by saying that the people of the Rock want to remain under the Union Jack, and the Spanish are once again turning on the heat on a dispute stretching back hundreds of years.

Some footage of Gibraltar was then shown - Main Street, band playing etc - and a reporter dwelt briefly on the history, saying Gibraltar was a Crown colony wanting to stay British. Spain wants it back - Spanish restrictions - its latest offer being a long period of co-sovereignty before hand-back. The handover of Hong Kong sent shivers down the backs of the Gibraltarians. For them, the Rock must remain forever British.

The Chief Minister Peter Caruana was having Breakfast With Frost on BBC television, which also allowed him an opportunity - off camera - to talk at length with Frost and two other guests, Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown and a former US ambassador in London. Mr. Caruana will meet Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on Wednesday and the FCO minister with Gibraltar responsibility Doug Henderson on Thursday, before returning to the Rock.

Media director Francis Cantos, who organised the interview, accompanied Mr. Caruana to the BBC studios. The interview itself lasted about 5 minutes.

The Greatest objection to a Spanish takeover

Frost: What is your greatest objection to Spain's annexation of Gibraltar, even if they say they will give the right to Gibraltarians to remain British citizens? What's wrong with Spain as far as Gibraltar is concerned?

Caruana: Simply the fact that we Gibraltarians are not Spanish, we don't feel Spanish, we have been British for 300 years, we wish to remain British, and what is not acceptable is for the Spaniards to seek to draw a distinction between the territory of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar, so suggesting that our homeland, which is Gibraltar, should become Spanish but we, if we want, can carry on carrying British passports is offensive really in this democratic age in the European Union.

We don't want to change our minds

Frost: Are you getting the support from Robin Cook and from the British Government that you would like?

Caruana: Well, on the fundamental issues, absolutely. This new labour government has adopted what has been continued government policy over Gibraltar for over 30 years, that is that, the commitment made in 1969 that sovereignty will never be transferred contrary to the wishes of the Gibraltarians - and this government and Robin Cook has repeatedly stated that. Well, so we are very clear that Britain has no intention of giving Gibraltar up contrary to the wishes of the people. What we want is for Spain to accept that inevitable democratic reality and stop trying to harass us into charging our minds when we don't want to change our minds.

Spain not entitled to our sovereignty

Frost: What about in terms of diplomatic solutions the talk of joint sovereignty between Britain and Spain?

Caruana: It's the same issue, David, sovereignty of a piece of land cannot be shared in that way, whether we are British or Spanish, or whether we owe our allegiance to the Queen of England or to the King of Spain. The idea of joint sovereignty is sharing something which is ours with somebody who really has no entitlement to it. We would feel just as uncomfortable with joint sovereignty as we would be with exclusive Spanish sovereignty. We don't draw a distinction between the two.

What if Spain invaded Gibraltar?

Frost: What would happen if Spain invaded Gibraltar? Wouldn't you expect Britain to do a Falklands?

Caruana: In fairness to the Spaniards, although they treat us on a day to day basis in a way which we think is unEuropean, which people in this country may not know, that the frontier is operated in a way that causes great queues, Spain refuses to allow civilian air links between Gibraltar and Spain, there are no ferries between Gibraltar and Spain. Even though we are subjected to this sort of day-to-day harassment which is completely unEuropean between two territories of the European Union, nevertheless in fairness to her, I think she is democratic enough to have renounced the use of violence in the resolution of this dispute and I don't think that invasion of Gibraltar by Spain is a prospect that anyone considers to be even conceivable.

Aggression renounced

Frost: Troops are being sent all over the world at the moment and Gibraltar would be an added pressure. So you don't see that happening at all. So whatever your feelings about Spain you know they would not commit aggression?

Caruana: That is my judgement of it. It is also their judgement, that they have renounced force even when they were a military dictatorship.

Changing the Constitution

Frost: Are you trying to change the Constitution?

Caruana: We in Gibraltar much value our links with the United Kingdom and indeed far from wanting to break them, what we want to do is to strengthen them. Spain makes much mischievous use of the fact in international political organisations that Gibraltar is a mere colony and therefore what we want to do is to decolonise to deprive Spain of that argument by modernising our relationship with the United Kingdom in a way that strengthens the links but removes the colonial trappings from the situation and in a sense there are examples of how this can be done, although the history is different and our constitution is different, but places like the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey show how you can be in a very close political constitutional relationship with the United Kingdom without that relationship being colonial in nature. Therefore what we seek is to modernise our constitutional links with Britain but of course maintaining and strengthening them, certainly not to decolonise in the form that other colonies did in the sixties and seventies, which is to break the links with Britain, which nobody in Gibraltar wants.

UK customs officer for drugs unit

The Gibraltar Coordinating Centre for Criminal Intelligence and Drugs (GCID) is to be fully reactivated before the end of March, when a UK customs officer will be attached to it.

Across the land frontier

The number of people crossing the frontier has taken a dip, according to detailed figures made available to PANORAMA by the Police. But the decrease - about 162,000 - is a drop in the ocean, considering that over 7 million cross the frontier annually.

Of those crossing, around 6 million are non-Gibraltar residents. It shows that whatever the inconveniences at the frontier, people keep pouring over.

With millions coming over, there are those who ask if Gibraltar is taking full advantage of the situation. Too much time is spent in criticising - quite rightly - the frontier delays, and not enough in realising that, despite such problems, the number of visitors is so high that it is not understood that such a positive situation should not translate into a more profitable experience for a wider sector of the economy.

Vehicles

The number of vehicles also show a small drop, but around 2 million vehicles cross the border annually.

Cars are also down but figures remain high. With the weakness of the peseta, and the apparent downtrend in cars coming over for petrol, some might query the accuracy of the figures. There are those who think that fewer Spanish cars have been coming.

Yet, the figures purport to suggest that more Gibraltar cars are crossing the frontier and also that more Gibraltar residents are doing so.

Coaches

As far as coaches are concerned, the figures for 1997 and 1996 remain almost static at over 11,600. The most popular months for coaches - attracting over 1,000 - are March, April, May, September and October.

December, January and February are the worst months for coaches.

Calentita

Extract from the telephone conversations of Cloti & Cynthia

Blimey, who was going to say que el integration se iva a revivir in Hattersley's lifetime.

Y la cosa is more than a refrito, segun mi querido Juan, porque El Bigote y El Doctor have joined forces to check it out.

My dear Cloti, los del Foreign Office andan nervioso. I imaginate they will want to darnos el traste, pero van a tener que comer cuecaro porque the people know what they want.

Y ahora que a Bob le han hecho "Sir" y tambien le damos el Freedom of the City, all we want is to be allowed to freely and democratically decide what we want, como dice el perambulo del constipation.

Dejate de cachonfinger, Cloti dear, que you are going to confuse al pueblo.


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