What comes first the constitutional chicken or the trilateral egg?

The last time the chief minister and a UK minister for Europe held a joint Press conference must have been when the celebrated Peter Hain visited Gibraltar. The smiles, the handshakes...well, almost an endless embrace. And we all know what happened next.

Will history repeat itself now that the current Europe minister Geoff Hoon has been and gone?

Many people will see Hoon as a different kettle of fish. But even if he wants to, will he be allowed to deliver what we want? He built up his pro-Gibraltar reputation while in the MOD, but now he is in the Foreign Office...

What people want is not a second Preamble that says the wrong thing.

It has to be recalled that when the select committee of the House of Assembly concocted the new constitution it was unanimously agreed that the Preamble would include language to the effect that the referendum would be seen by Britain as an act of self-determination.

Obviously, an act of self-determination NOT to secure independence, but purely and simply to accept or reject the constitution.

REFERENDUM

There was this report in Spain which claimed that Hoon had told his Spanish counterpart Benardino Leon that any referendum in Gibraltar to decide on the constitution would not constitute an act of self-determination. When this was put to Hoon by Joe Bossano in Gibraltar this week, Hoon denied having made any such statement. Bossano acceopted the assurances given to him by Hoon.

Hoon himself told the news conference that Britain had always recognised the right to self-determination of the people of Gibraltar, so whats the problem?

Caruana, for his part, talks about a Preamble being made known before any referendum takes place, but any reference to self-determination has become conspicuous by its absence.

Hoon did say that he would 'clearly and definitively' be dealing with the matter when he answers a question in Parliament. But this will happen after the long, hot summer, some time in September before the proposed referendum is held.

The question anyone would ask is why not now? Next week?

What is holding back answering that question in Parliament?

Not only that but Hoon himself, in defending Jack Straw over the madness of not publishing the Preamble before the voting, did say this week that what Straw had done was the right way forward at the time. In effect, Hoon was saying that UK policy can change within weeks.

This raises the question that for how long will any statement he makes about self-determination remain valid UK policy?

PREAMBLE

Besides, it is one thing what he may say in Parliament and something else what is included in the Preamble. As everyone knows, including Hoon, his predecessors and successors, what really matters is what is enshrined in the Preamble to our constitution, which would have the same force as the 1969 Preamble on sovereignty.

Hoon can deny that he said what Spanish diplomatic sources say that he said in Madrid. And while we all hope that England will do what Gibraltar expects, sources in the Spanish foreign ministry are saying that the self-determination issue could complicate the tripartite process.

While Caruana and Pons have been projecting optimism since the process was initiated ages ago, with visions of a global settlement being round the corner, what emerged during Hoon's visit this week to Madrid and Gibraltar is that all the topics under discussion remain unsettled, to the extent that Caruana spent his lunch with Hoon trying to convince him to convince the MOD to drop their red lines.

Hoon has promised to go to see his former colleagues in the MOD to try and persuade them to shift their positions. No doubt he will be reminded of his own position when, as Secretary of State for Defence, he threw a spanner in the works to stop joint sovereignty in defence of British national interests because what was planned affected military interests.

And anyway, since we are told that there is no linkage between the tripartite talks and the constitution, why is it that the impression given by those who deny any such linkage is that, in fact, there is a link?

So, what comes first, the constitutional chicken or the trilateral egg?

This political puzzle remains to be unravelled.




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