The Rock: Spain wants to share Gibraltar sovereignty

Spain's Foreign Minister, Abel Matutes, will propose a plan for joint Anglo-Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar when he meets his counterpart, Robin Cook, in London today. Elizabeth Nash reports from Madrid.

It will be the first time the joint sovereignty proposal for Gibraltar, which was raised informally with Mr Cook's predecessor Malcolm Rifkind in January, is put formally at bilateral ministerial talks about the Rock.

"It is a new proposal, a revolutionary process that marks a substantial change in Spain's approach," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said yesterday. But she added that Spain's proposal was open-ended and contained no timeframe. If the principle were acceptable, the timing would be for Britain to decide.

"We have never raised the question of leaseback, along the lines of Hong Kong. And we have never talked in terms of a timetable. All we can say is we're talking long term. Our position is that Britain can keep Gibraltar as long as it wants, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht."

The Foreign Office dismissed the proposal as unacceptable when it was first trailed in January, saying that it did not take into account the wishes of the Gibraltarians, who are vehement in their desire to remain British.

Perhaps anticipating a similar response today, Mr Matutes is shoring up his proposal with two supporting arguments. First, he proposes to leave open the question of whether or not the proposed joint-sovereignty period would be a transition to eventual recovery of Spanish sovereignty, or whether it could last indefinitely. "We aren't specifying whether it is a transition period or not," the spokeswoman said.

Secondly, the proposal comes with a package of economic and social measures designed to protect the rights of Gibraltarians and improve their material conditions. "Our claim is the territorial integration of Gibraltar into Spain, but we do not want to exercise rights over the Gibraltarian population: we want to annex the territory, not the people," the spokeswoman said. Accordingly, Gibraltarians would be free to choose to stay British or take Spanish nationality.

Details of proposed economic and social incentives remain to be developed, the ministry says, but could amount to generous devolution of powers under a tailor-made statute of autonomy comparable to deals Madrid has fashioned with the Basques and the Catalans.

Spain's plan amounts to a pragmatic, softly-softly assault upon sovereignty, chipping away at areas of political competence with British consent, leaving the eventual outcome open. The aim is to break the stalemate over sovereignty that has dogged regular talks about the Rock between Britain and Spain, of which today's is the latest round: Britain has refused even to discuss sovereignty in this forum.

"Spain is ready to maintain and protect the rights of the Gibraltarians and to talk about a statute of autonomy. Our idea is that during a long period of co-sovereignty, Gibraltarians would make new gains as well as keeping the advantages they already have, and would gradually get used to coexistence with Spain," Mr Matutes said recently, and added: "We respect Britain's sovereignty over the Rock, but we hope to recoup it eventually."

Spain insists it will talk only to Britain, and not to what it calls Gibraltar's "authorities". Mr Matutes has expressed his "esteem" for Mr Cook during "frank and difficult" haggles over Gibraltar in talks over Nato restructuring. Britain last week lifted its reserve on Spain's full integration into Nato's military structures, but still wants Spanish restrictions on access to the Rock lifted. The Nato talks seem to have put new heart in the stalled bilateral talks, whose stalemate Madrid blames mostly on the Gibraltarian Chief Minister, Peter Caruana.

Mr Caruana agrees that the logic of European integration dictates a "modernisation" of Gibraltar's status. "We want to change from being a colony or a dependent territory. We would like to become a crown dependency, like Guernsey and the Isle of Man, which still enables us to keep British sovereignty. We don't want to break our links with the Crown."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map