Tuesday, December 6, 2011


On Thursday the people of Gibraltar go to the polls to elect their next government. However, sometime in January, they will also have another date with destiny. On that day the former Europe Minister, Peter Hain, will publish his book ‘Outside In’. Whilst it will cover many topics it will also reveal exactly what happened between him and Peter Caruana over the joint sovereignty talks in 2001.
The book has been in the process of being published for some time. As the Foreign Office was aware that Gibraltar would be holding its general election this autumn the contents have been placed under embargo and the publication date moved back to January.
“Outside In” will appropriately be published by BiteBack Publishing – a company that specialises in political books. Hain is a loose cannon even within the Labour Party and the fact the book is to be published has shocked many within the party organisation and at Westminster. The events surrounding the attempts by Blair/Straw/Hain to bounce Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty agreement against its wishes are something the Foreign Office and Labour would wish to forget.
Jack Straw always maintains he can’t remember what went on and sends enquiries to the Foreign Office. Yet the year after the 2001 debacle the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee reported: “According to the Foreign Secretary, the British Government and Spain have agreed to the conditions for negotiation originally demanded by Peter Caruana, who has since imposed further conditions which are incompatible with meaningful negotiation.”
It has always been inconceivable to many Gibraltarians that Britain would have embarked on the joint sovereignty exercise with Spain, knowing Gibraltar had a veto, unless they felt confident the Rock would support it. The suspicion has always been that Caruana promised to deliver the support of Gibraltarians and then went back on the deal. National Day 2001 is the likely date he saw the writing on the wall and stabbed Hain in the back.
In September 2004 the Gibraltar Chronicle reported on Fabian Picardo attending the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. There he had a meeting with Peter Hain and they naturally discussed the Joint Sovereignty process of 2001 – 2002. Fabian Picardo questioned Hain: “Let me ask you this, what was the attitude of the Chief Minister when he welcomed you to Gibraltar in September 2001 and welcomed the relaunch of the Brussels Process?”
Peter Hain replied: “He led us to believe he would be a willing partner in the talks – and then he pulled back.”
That is what it is believed Hain’s book will now confirm. As it so happened I was close at hand when Picardo met Hain at this year’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool and the former Europe Minister repeated the same claim.
That documents sit in the Whitehall files relating to the joint sovereignty negotiations is fact. The Public Records Office has admitted to their existence but has refused to release them under the Freedom of Information Act as they would damage relations between the UK and Gibraltar governments.
This raises a very important issue. The people of Gibraltar have the right to know what their chief minister offered to Britain and Spain at the time of the 2001 joint sovereignty negotiations. The Foreign and Cabinet Offices might argue the case for an embargo now because of the elections. Yet leaving aside the elections Gibraltarians will be very angry indeed if Caruana is shown to have tried to lead them down the path to joint sovereignty especially if he is re-elected as chief minister.
The Gibraltarian people have a right to know what bargaining went on over the future of their homeland. They are no longer colonial serfs tugging their forelocks in the direction of the Foreign Office, the Convent or indeed No.6. It would have been better if these records had been made public – in the event it appears Gibraltarians may owe a debt to Peter Hain who up till now has been their bĂȘte noir.
Even now Caruana talks of the possibility of Gibraltar having a joint sovereignty accord with Spain. It was just a year ago when he suggested in Sevilla that Gibraltar take on an Andorra-style status. Nothing has seemingly changed over the last ten years. 

On December 8 the voters of Gibraltar have a very simple choice – do they want a chief minister whose heart lies in Spain – or Picardo or indeed Azopardi whose feet are firmly on Gibraltarian soil.
For the truth on the joint sovereign negotiations they will have to be patient and wait a while longer – but the truth will out.