By Chris Graeme
Anglo-Portugese News - April 10th 2002
Britain's Conservative Party leader reiterates opposition to joining euro and 'selling out' Gibraltar
BRITAIN's Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, in an exclusive interview with the APN on Tuesday, made clear his views on two current top-of-the-agenda topics.
Iain Duncan Smith, Paulo Portas and Charles Tannock
The Conservative leader, who stayed overnight on Monday at the British Ambassador's Residence in Lisbon, was accompanied by Conservative European MP Charles Tannock, an occasional contributor to the APN. Dr. Tannock is the son of a well-known member of the British Community here, Bob Tannock, and grew up in Portugal.
Mr. Duncan Smith's visit to Portugal was for face-to-face talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Durão Barroso and with Paulo Portas, leader of the CDS-Popular Party, who is Defence Minister in the Coalition Government. In the interview with the APN, Mr. Duncan Smith said that his party would oppose a referendum on Britain joining the euro. Speaking after a relaxed and informal breakfast meeting with Mr. Portas at the Ambassador's residence in Lapa, Mr. Duncan Smith said: "My answer to Mr. Blair is stop talking about the referendum and get on and do it, or shut up and get on with the pressing problems at home."
He went on: "We are faced (in Britain) with the issues of the health service, rising levels of violent crime, and the disgusting disaster in transport in which the Government's 10-year plan has now been ridiculed. All of these things are huge domestic problems and I say, either get on with these or get on with the referendum, but don't talk about either one and do nothing," he said vigorously.
He added that his visit to Portugal had "always been on the cards" to hold talks with Mr. Barroso and Mr. Portas. "We were also meant to visit the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar" he said, "but, at the last minute, he decided he couldn't take the visit because I was going on to Gibraltar. Of course, he's quite at liberty to make that decision."
Mr. Duncan Smith said that had it not been for the current British Government's prevaricating policy towards Gibraltar "it would have been possible a year ago to have made the Gibraltar visit." He continued: "My view is that the British Government got themselves into a mess by embarking on this rather fruitless negotiation on Gibraltar which is something they cannot deliver. Now they find themselves in the worst of all worlds.
"The fact is they have angered the Spanish because the Spanish now realise they won't deliver on this joint sovereignty. They've angered the Gibraltarians because they feel they were about to be betrayed. And, they've actually, intriguingly, upset British public opinion which feels they shouldn't have started on this process in the first place."
Mr. Duncan Smith accused the British Government of "stirring up bad feeling" for nothing at the end of the day resulting in "quite a pointless exercise." When asked, if and when he became British Prime Minister, he would uphold the rights and wishes of the Gibraltarians to make their own decision on their future, Mr. Duncan Smith told the APN: "We're going down to Gibraltar to talk about exactly that, and what options there are and what they want.
"I want to hear first-hand what their thoughts and aspirations are and figure out what a future Conservative Government can do to enhance the lives of the local people. That's the key issue."
According to a report in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph the Conservative leader was told that his meeting with the Spanish Premier would not go ahead because "differences over Gibraltar made it too difficult." The headline said: "Spain rebuffs Duncan Smith". Mr. Duncan Smith was expected to tell Gibraltarians that the Anglo-Spanish talks about its future should be abandoned.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had a rocky reception when he visited Gibraltar recently. Gibraltarians believe that he is planning to sell them out to the Spanish. The 30,000 inhabitants of the Rock do not feel reassured by Mr. Straw's promise that their status would remain unchanged if they voted in a referendum in favour of staying with Britain.
Mr. Duncan Smith, who cancelled the Spanish leg of his tour, was visiting Portugal and then France as part of the Conservatives' attempt to learn from Europe about the provision of public services.