Hoon will spell out if Gibraltar will remain a colony because that is what Spain wants

by our Political correspondent
The Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon left Gibraltar yesterday promising to state 'clearly and definitively' if Gibraltar is to remain a colony as the Spanish government wants.

But this will not be included in the Preamble, it would appear, and instead Mr Hoon will make use of a parliamentary question to spell out the position before any referendum takes place.

A thorny issue in the current state of play is whether or not the status of Gibraltar is going to change.

The Spanish keep saying that they have a written assurance from the UK that the referendum will not be an act of self-determination that would change Gibraltar's colonial status. But when Mr Bossano asked about this at a meeting with Mr Hoon yesterday, the UK minister assured him that he had not said words to that effect in his meeting with his Spanish opposite number, Benardino Leon, in Madrid before coming to Gibraltar.

Normally well-informed Spanish sources were saying yesterday that the question of the referendum could complicate the tripartite process, because of the demands by the Gibraltarians to have their referendum recognised as an act of self-determination.

It follows that, once again, the Spanish and the British interpretations tend to differ.

Mr Hoon spoke yesterday of "modernising our relationship" and about positive steps regarding the tripartite relationship.

It was recognised by Mr Caruana that Spain kept relating the tripartite process to the constitution, but he said the constitution and the tripartite issues were unrelated, but taking place in parallel.

What emerged yesterday is that the optimistic pronouncements about an early publication of the constitution, let alone the Preamble, had in fact suffered delays. Mr Caruana admitted yesterday that he had discussed with Mr Hoon "outstanding points relating to the constitution and the trilateral process." They have been looking forward to future meetings, hopefully to come to an agreement on the trilateral. There was a determination to improve the practical issues that matter to people. At the meetings with Spain, the 'atmospherics' were good, said Mr Hoon.

It also emerged that Spain was still refusing to allow a visit of its officials to Gibraltar, but Mr Caruana insisted that this 'hang-up by Spain' was not more important than the risk and capital displayed by the Spanish government in the trilateral process. Apparently there has been no risk or capital by Gibraltar and Britain!

PREAMBLE

Mr Hoon fell short from saying that Jack Straw had got it wrong when he ruled that Preambular language should not come before a referendum. "That was not the way forward at the time," he said by way of getting himself out of this sticky patch. He went on to accept that it was important that the relevant information was available to voters in advance.

Self-determination is another sticky issue. Britain has always said and recognised the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar, said Mr Hoon, but he would not say if the referendum would be recognised by Britain as an act of self-determination which would lead to decolonisation.

He said he would give a clear answer in parliament where a question on the matter awaited him.

AIRPORT

The question of the airfield remains another thorny issue, and one which led to a 'lively discussion' over lunch with Mr Caruana yesterday.

There were practical issues that had to be resolved for the MOD, it transpired.

The MOD want to continue to use the airfield without any impediments and clearly see this as a vital consideration in Britain's National interest, something which Mr Hoon would defend when he was Secretary of State for Defence.

There could be physical implications for MOD equipment, which needed to be addressed. "It's a question of finding the right way forward," said Mr Hoon.

Mr Caruana went on to explain that the air terminal was Gibraltar government property and the airfield was MOD property. Under the envisaged airport areement, the airfield would continue to be MOD.

Mr Caruana did not explain if the air terminal would remain exclusively Gibraltar government under an airport deal.

It was generally accepted that there remain "important issues" to be resolved, let alone Spanish interpretations that a trilateral package would open the door to matters of sovereignty, as a Spanish reporter said that Sr Leon had intimated.

From the British side it was said that success in the trilateral process would not open a sovereignty process. The sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be decided other than by the people of Gibraltar, is what the UK minister said.

Although the process was not about sovereignty, Spain could raise it as it was an open process, said Mr Caruana, but he denied a linkage.

SPANISH POLICE

Meanwhile, Spanish diplomatic sources were quoted in the daily El Pais yesterday saying that among the issues still to be resolved include where the Spanish police would be sited to control entry into Spain within the new airport arrangement. Other pending issues related to the Spanish pensions. The expected telephone and frontier improvements were also unresolved.

Even at this late stage, the negotiators in the tripartite process are banking their expectations on 'hope'.




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