The recent revelations in the Hain book coupled with the Brussels Process and rumours of other Conservative Government plotting with Spain tells us one simple fact: given the opportunity London would clinch a deal with Madrid over Gibraltar. That applies to whoever is in power and Cameron would snatch a deal as readily as Blair or Thatcher.
Let us take a look at this from London. There are at least one million Britons living in Spain or with second homes there. They pay taxes in Spain, many work for Spanish registered companies, others run businesses. Around the same number of Britons holiday in Spain each year; in many regions they top the tourist charts. Spain is Britain’s eighth largest trading partner and in 2011 exports were nearly eight billion pounds.
This means that when Whitehall looks at its interests with democratic Spain it is these statistics that loom large and not Gibraltar. In addition to that both are partners within the EU, both currently have centre right governments and both are members of NATO.
The days of Gibraltar’s strategic importance have largely gone and the Rock is no longer the bastion of democracy on the face of Franco’s Spain. Relations between London and Madrid are good but would be better if the Gibraltar issue could be solved.
I have no doubt that Britain will honour the pre-amble to the Constitution. In addition the ties that bind the UK and Gibraltar are very strong indeed. There is over 300 years of mutual history and institutional bonds including a shared monarch. However we are faced with two differing priorities: London would like a settlement with Spain (joint sovereignty would suit it fine) and Gibraltar has no intention of diluting its sovereignty: “no surrender!”
Every indication is that Gibraltarians wish to self govern their Rock whilst maintaining the link with Britain. What needs to be done now is for that policy to be agreed not by politicians but by the people and enshrined in a binding document. It should be a document that sets out the future for Gibraltar and how it intends to relate to Britain, the EU and the UN. It will be the will of the people endorsed by the people at a referendum.
Whether the Hain revelations are true or not the fact is that Caruana has constantly sent out messages to Spain that he is willing to discuss an Andorra style solution regardless of the fact the majority of Gibraltarians are not. He comes from the Palomo tradition and talks the Palomo talk. He has been happy for sovereignty to be on the table. As a democrat I believe he has every right personally, and I stress the personally, to do so. However when he did so as chief minister he should have realised that he gave hope to those in Madrid and London who desire a joint sovereignty accord for differing reasons. Furthermore he should have made it plain he spoke for himself and the two per cent who perhaps back such a solution but not the vast majority who would reject it out of hand: including most GSD supporters. In such delicate matters as sovereignty you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
That is why I say I believe there should be a debate amongst all Gibraltarians to define the future Gibraltar they want; how it will relate to Britain, Spain and its European neighbours. In essence it will be a political debate but it shouldn’t be clouded by party politics. It should be the will of the people and once set down represent the status quo that London and Madrid have to deal with.