On March 23 the Conservative Peer, Lord Ashcroft, asked in the House of Lords “what legal obstacles there are to self-determination for the citizens of Gibraltar?”
Replying for the government was the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell of Guildford - also a Tory - who stated: “The UK Government's position is that we will not enter into arrangements under which Gibraltar will pass into the sovereignty of another state against the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. Moreover, we will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. Gibraltar's right of self-determination is not constrained, except through Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht. Should Britain renounce sovereignty over Gibraltar, Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht makes clear that Spain would be given the right of first refusal.”
All pretty standard stuff but two points caught my eye. The first is that in this day and age the British Government still bases its position regarding Gibraltar on the outdated and largely defunct Treaty of Utrecht. Also as an extension of that it believes Spain has the right of first refusal – surely that right lies with the people of the Rock.
In Gibraltar’s new Constitution is enshrined the promise that Gibraltar will not pass into the sovereignty of another state against the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. That is a short term commitment that will last for the lifetime of this constitution. Yet what of the future? I would argue Gibraltarians should not be only confident of their status, say over the next 20 years, but that of their children, their children’s children on into the future.
I would therefore beg the question that whilst secure in the present constitution should not Gibraltar challenge the Treaty of Utrecht now in the European Court of Human Rights to have it consigned once and for all to the legal dustbin? If it doesn’t then no progress can be made on self-determination, the sovereignty of Gibraltar’s waters or Spain’s sovereignty claims because Madrid and London will both turn to the Articles of the Treaty of Utrecht.
Who knows what world Gibraltarians will be living in in 50 years time? One scenario is that the mother country Britain will not be a monarchy but a republic. It is my understanding that the Treaty of Utrecht gives Gibraltar to the British Crown and not the government – so if there is no crown what then?
There are no hard and fast facts on the support in Britain for a Republic. Even the Republic website can only state: “Opinion polls consistently put support for a republic at around 20 per cent (various Mori polls), and some have put it as high as 43 per cent (GMTV/Mirror 2008). That means that at least 10 million people would vote to abolish the monarchy - the same number that voted for the winning party at our last general election.”
I suspect any move to a Republic is on hold till HM The Queen dies. I believe the British people and key nations such as Australia will not break their links to the crown until after she leaves the throne. With King Charles as monarch all bets are off. The majority of Britons think he should stand aside for his son William - he certainly will not unless ill health intervenes.
The Republic website goes on to state: “There has also been a steady increase in the number of people who do not think the monarchy will survive in the long term. A 2002 poll showed that 70 per cent believe Britain will be a republic within 50 years (Mori 2002).”
Hence when Gibraltarians plan their future it must not be on the grounds that the status quo will apply. The questions have to be asked now - in 50 years will Britain have a president, will Spain be fractured, will the EU even exist and will the Treaty of Utrecht still rule Gibraltarians’ lives?