Preamble is centre of attraction as Hoon arrives in Gibraltar

UK minister for Europe Geoff Hoon arrives in Gibraltar today, with the Preamble to the constitution as the centre of attraction.

PANORAMA reported exclusively on 11 May that the British Government was changing its policy on the controversial question of the Preamble, from saying that it was not UK policy to announce Preambular language before a referendum, to reconsidering the whole issue.

There is now unanimity in Gibraltar that the Preamble must be known if there is to be a referendum.

But what matters is not just the mechanics of publishing a Preamble, BUT WHAT THE PREAMBLE SAYS.

If the Preamble says in unequivocal terms that the British Government considers that a referendum would be an exercise of self-determination by the people of Gibraltar, that would be universally welcomed.

However, if it does not say that, the controversy will continue - and all the Preamble will do is to divide Gibraltar. Is that what the UK wants?

Ex foreign secretary Jack Straw, when making his nonsensical remark about the Preamble, did say that Britain would retrospectively describe the process under which the people of Gibraltar would have accepted the constitution. Thus, the Preamble can only uphold the principle of self-determination.

The first principle of UK policy with its remaining overseas territories says this: "First, our partnership must be founded on self-determination."

All that Gibraltar expects is that Britain upholds such a principle.

However, it has not gone down well that Mr Hoon should consult the Spanish Government before his Gibraltar visit.

If the new constitution did not uphold the Treaty of Utrecht,it would be understandable that Spain would have to be consulted given the interpretation given to Utrecht by London and Madrid.

But the new constitution is not an act of independence. It does not change Gibraltar's British sovereignty, so Utrecht remains intact. So, what is going on?

Mr Hoon has long been regarded as a supporter of Gibraltar and its people. Everyone is hoping that his visit will serve to reinforce that friendship.