Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

UK government will bully Gibraltar

By Damien Seaman

Rapporteur - April 10th 2002

British Conservative MEP Dr Charles Tannock is one of the four interim MEPs nominated by Gibraltar to represent it in the European Parliament. At present, this crown colony of the UK is not able to vote for its own MEPs, and Tannock is fearful that this lack of representation is being perpetuated as high-level talks between the British and Spanish governments continue over the future sovereignty of the area and its 30,000 population.

"I think that the Gibraltarians are not being consulted at all. It was interesting that the Barcelona Summit, and the resolution from the Parliament afterwards, welcomed the bilateral talks between the two governments without any mention of consulting the people of Gibraltar. Peter Caruana, the chief minister, has only been offered a place at the table as an observer, with no right of veto over anything discussed," Tannock told Rapporteur last week.

"In my view there will be an agreement and it will be on joint or shared sovereignty between the two countries, with British sovereignty phased out over a period of time. It will then be put to a vote in Gibraltar and rejected. The British Labour government will then use this rejection as an excuse and say that that was the best deal they could deliver, complete with a 30 million euro aid package to sweeten the deal. It will lose interest in Gibraltar, claiming that it is a thorny problem that is intolerable to the British national interest, and it will say to the people: 'We will marginalize you'. I think effectively the Gibraltarians will be punished. Its privileges enable it to exist as an offshore financial centre, but all those privileges will be made very difficult. British banks will be discouraged from opening offices there. There will be de facto financial sanctions to bring it to heel, when all Gibraltar wants is to retain British sovereignty.

"When Peter Caruana was at the Parliament two months ago in Strasbourg I floated the idea that Gibraltar could have two heads of state who are purely symbolic: the King of Spain and the Queen of the UK. They would be the joint sovereigns and Gibraltar could effectively become an independent autonomous state, in or out of the EU, whatever it chose to do. If the British Crown forsakes them entirely then no one could blame them for seeking independence.

"Spain could be accused of double standards in that it has sovereignty over an area in Morocco called Ceuta and Mellila, although it claims the situation there is different because the population in that area is purely Spanish, while in Gibraltar the population includes Genoese, Jews and others. They even point out that allowing Jews to live there is in breach of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 by which Britain gained sovereignty over the area in the first place.

"You could argue that Spain is now a mature democracy and that the Gibraltarians would have nothing to fear from it, but then they wouldn't have their unique culture. It is a micro-culture, a separate unique culture built up over 300 years. They are fiercely proud of their independence from Spain, and they feel a strong allegiance to Britain. In the end it has to be their decision.

"It may be that British Conservatives like myself who object to the way the talks are going will be accused of wanting to keep hold of Gibraltar for its traditional strategic military importance. But Britain has no reason to hold on to the place; we no longer have any strategic interests in the Mediterranean. This is purely a matter of respecting the wishes of the people."

Tannock is one of the 4 UK MEPs who were nominated by the assembly in Gibraltar two years ago to represent Gibraltar's interests as interim MEPs until it gets to vote for its own MEPs. The others are the Conservatives Lord Bethell and Roy Perry, along with the Liberal Democrat Baroness Emma Nicholson. The Labour party has been accused of shunning any invitation to take part, so as not to embarrass its own government
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