Cook rejects shared sovereignty of the Rock

Britain last night gave a polite but unequivocal thumbs down to the latest Spanish proposal to break the deadlock on Gibraltar with an offer of shared sovereignty for the colony, and the preservation of the existing tax and customs advantages for its inhabitants.

Speaking after a meeting with his Spanish counterpart Abel Matutes, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, declared that Britain "won't compromise on the issue of sovereignty against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar."

Those wishes were made clear by the refusal of Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, even to attend the meeting here, to which he had been invited. Gibraltarians have long insisted they wish to remain linked to Britain. They want to tighten their links by changing from a crown colony to a crown dependency - a status similar to the Channel Islands.

Mr Matutes promised that under the Spanish scheme Gibraltarians would be able to retain British citizenship if they wishes, and enjoy autonomy equal to that of Catalonia or the Basque country. But Mr Cook warned that Spain's "policy of pressure" would not work.

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