A problem of self-determination in the 21st century, and not an issue of 18th century type territorial disputes

During his visit to New York this week, the chief minister Peter Caruana was interviewed for Sky World News by James Rubin.

James Rubin: We turn now to one of the world's smaller and to some most unusual countries the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar has been a constant source of friction between the UK and Spain. The rock was Spanish until the early 18th centaury and then was taken over by the British Empire in 1969 the little colony gained a new constitution and in an angry response General Franco cut off Gibraltar from Spain by sealing its borders. The border wasn?t re-opened until 16 years later. Controversial talks were held in the late 1990s to look into some form of shared responsibility with Spain but in 2002 the citizens there voted to remain under British sovereignty. It?s been an impasse but today there may be a chink of light. Chief Minister Peter Caruana has been at the UN for talks and he joins us this evening from New York. Thank you very much for joining us.

James Rubin: Is there some hope for a diplomatic breakthrough on this very, very thorny issue?

Chief Minister: Good evening James. Well, there is certainly plenty of prospect for agreements on things to do with cooperation and many issues that are problematic between Gibraltar and Spain but on the fundamental question of the political future of Gibraltar and this is the reason why I am in New York talking to the United Nations, everyone has to accept that the principle to apply is that the people of Gibraltar?s wishes have got to be respected and Gibraltar is a problem of the self-determination of 30,000 British Europeans in the 21st century and not an issue of the territorial disputes of the 18th centaury type that anyone should think that the sovereignty of Gibraltar can be transacted above our heads simply because Spain has anachronistic claim

So by all means there is plenty of scope for improvements in relations, there is scope for such things as an agreement to share use of our airfield and to improve our telecommunications links and many of the things that are problematic between Gibraltar and Spain establishing maritime links and things of that sort but as to the fundamental question of British sovereignty the people of Gibraltar are firmly of the view that they wish to retain their British sovereignty and I think the rest of the world ought to respect

thatJames Rubin: Well that has been their view for quite some time and there are of course other precendents that go against the one you are suggesting, for example Hong Kong which is attached to China and which I doubt all the people of Kong Hong really wanted to go back and become part of China formally. So everybody has their precedent. The question is how meaningful is all this, what difference would it make, if you gave them (Spain) a little symbolic role in Gibraltar?

Chief Minister: Well Kong Hong was a markedly different case because that was the case of an expiring lease over the bulk of the territories and the bit that Britain would have held on to was not viable without the bit which was the expiring lease. Gibraltar is not such a case. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity and Gibraltar now has a British population that has been there for 300 years that is longer than most countries of the world have existed and it is not a question of giving Spain a bit just as most British people in the United Kingdom wouldn?t see resolving problems on the basis of giving another country a bit of their sovereignty, sure we all share part of our sovereignty collectively in regional organisations like the EU but no one in Britain would contemplate giving France a bit of sovereignty of part of the United Kingdom simply to placate a 300 year old French claim and in the 21st century whatever might be the historical origins of the problem, whatever might be and we do not think it is, Spain?s claim of right we don?t think it is a good claim of right in the 21st century in the European union that we are all trying to build, nothing can take precedence over the democratic expression of the people and that will is to remain of British sovereignty and not to have our sovereignty divided between two countries ?

James Rubin: Finally your suggestion of talks on air flights and other things. Do you think this is a bit of a breakthrough?

Chief Minister: Well, it is a bit of a breakthrough because it is the first time that the UK, Gibraltar and Spain have managed to sit around a table in a forum that is structured in a way that is acceptable to all the parties. All the parties are comfortable taking part in this, in which we have all said to each other, look the question of sovereignty is too difficult let?s put it to one side and let?s see if we can come to an agreement, bridge building agreements, things that will improve relations, things that will improve the lives of the citizens on both sides of the frontier. Let?s make agreements on those issues and let not everything fall foul on disagreement on sovereignty and the novelty is that that has not been possible for the last 35 years and we are now on the brink of good agreements that do not affect our sovereignty

James Rubin: Thank you for joining us, I guess we had a breakthrough on what you would agree with me that it is a pretty little country

Chief Minister: It is a little country but nevertheless a democratic one.

? James Rubin?s comment at the end of the programme:

The Palestinian situation requires a lot of diplomacy but as we heard earlier diplomacy can sometimes work as in the case of Gibraltar, a small but very solid country. Solid in terms of geography and particularly solid in terms of support for being part of the British Empire. It is something that the American doesn?t much understand, but those people want to be British.