Jack Straw was accused of betraying the people of Gibraltar yesterday after announcing that Britain had reached "broad agreement" with Spain on a joint sovereignty deal.
The Foreign Secretary said talks with Spain on the future of the Rock had been put on hold until the autumn, but provoked fury by publicly conceding the principle of shared sovereignty. Mr Straw faced calls of "sell-out" and "shame" in the Commons as he made his surprise statement with just 27 MPs present, leading to claims he had "buried" the statement when most MPs were in their constituencies.
He insisted that the people of Gibraltar would have to agree any deal in a referendum. Officials said Britain would not relinquish control of its military base on Gibraltar and any deal must not be a stepping stone towards the eventual handover of the colony to Spain.
Mr Straw said: "In 12 months of negotiations we are now closer than ever before to overcoming 300 years of fraught history. A better future for Gibraltar, more stable, secure and prosperous, is too important to let slip."
Foreign Office officials said any deal would include agreement from Spain to end its harassment of Gibraltarians. There was broad agreement on greater self-government, and offering residents British and Spanish citizenship.
Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, told MPs Mr Straw had "sold out" the colony. He said: "This is what we have feared has long been cooked up in the dishonourable talks which have taken place these last few months behind closed doors."
He told Mr Straw: "You have actually achieved the impossible: you have infuriated the people of Gibraltar, you have shamed yourself and your government and at the same time you have got nothing to show for it at all."
Peter Caruana, Gibraltar's First Minister, said: "This would be a betrayal of the right of the people of Gibraltar to decide their own future ... This will cause absolute consternation in Gibraltar and elsewhere." The senior Labour backbencher Gerald Kaufman said: "Just as this House would not accept the sell-out of the Falklands by the Tory government, so we will not accept the sell-out of Gibraltar by a Labour government."
Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour MP for Thurrock, said: "There is more likelihood of Dr Ian Paisley seeking election to the papacy than a Spanish foreign minister being able to agree in perpetuity to joint sovereignty."
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