Recently Gibraltar’s chief minister, Peter Caruana, made two statements relating to talks with Spain and the future status of the Rock. The first was to law students in Algeciras where he mentioned that in 2004, before the fall of the Aznar government, he had been close to an accord for bi-lateral talks with the Partido Popular in Spain. The second and more recent statement was on the Andorra option in Sevilla.
Now it is the latter which has dominated the headlines and political comment ever since. I believe Caruana has every right to consider what an Andorra option could deliver for Gibraltar in the future. Where I would take issue with him is that the first time Gibraltarians heard about it was via the media because he’d spoken to an audience in Spain rather than his fellow countrymen. Also as it was the chief minister who raised that option many would consider he was speaking on behalf of the Rock. He wasn’t but it didn’t stop some Spanish politicians from saying the door should not be closed on such a solution. The problem here is of course that whether the door is open or shut it is not acceptable to the vast majority of Gibraltarians.
What I find more interesting though is the first of the chief minister’s statements on his accord with the PP. My reasoning is simple for whilst the Andorra option is a snowball that can happily exist in the Pyrenees it wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell in the Med bathed Rock. However it would only be a fool who would write off Caruana’s chances of re-election next year and hence he could well be talking to a PP government again in Madrid in 2012.
Let us go back to November 2002 when the chief minister held a referendum to reject proposals by the British and Spanish governments for power sharing. After the referendum relations with London and Madrid were at an all time low. Yet Caruana insists his Government came very close to establishing a process of bilateral discussions with a PP government going so far as setting out an agenda, dates and agreeing a European city to meet in, before Aznar’s administration collapsed.
Given the referendum was held in November 2002 and the Spanish general election was in March 2004 these talks must have been held in the 14 or so months between Gibraltarians delivering a black eye to Madrid and the elections. Also as far as I am aware the people of Gibraltar were never told of any such talks and nor has the chief minister offered any explanation since.
Now the British Foreign Secretary who tried to force through the joint sovereignty agreement for his lord and master Tony Blair was Jack Straw. So I asked him what he knew of the chief minister’s PP accord, surely London had been kept informed. His office told me that “it was eight years ago” and so presumably he couldn’t remember. Given the circumstances involving British – Gibraltarian – Spanish relations at that time you might find it surprising that the British Foreign Secretary cannot remember if Caruana was about to sign an accord with the government in Madrid. Yet let us not forget that Jack Straw is also the man who shook Robert Mugabe’s hand by mistake at the UN so all things are possible.
So I spoke to a contact in Madrid who walks the corridors of power and who has access to the foreign ministry. He told me: “I know of the declarations of Caruana but I cannot confirm or deny whether they are true. I do not think there is any document proving it.”
Curious because the discussions were with the Spanish government of the day and not the Partido Popular as a party so ministerial records should exist about any such talks – especially as the outcome was so far advanced. It also sounds to me as somebody has been searching the files in Madrid to find out - hence the comment “I do not think there is any document proving it.”
I am sure the talks took place. I am sure an accord was reached. Given that the chief minister and the PP’s Mariano Rajoy could be talking again soon about Gibraltar it would be interesting to know what was discussed then – as it may tell us what is on the table in the future.