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Gibraltar Deal Not Inevitable, Says Hain

by Caroline Maxwell,, London

20 June 2002

Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, UK Minister for Europe, Peter Hain attempted to allay fears of a secret 'done deal' between the United Kingdom and Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, arguing that there are no guarantees that an agreement will actually be reached.

The bilateral talks were widely thought to have stalled last month as a result of several fundamental disagreements between the two countries, and as Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar, the British and Spanish Prime Ministers, met in Downing Street to attempt to restart negotiations, Mr Hain revealed the extent of the problems currently being experienced.

'We have long said there is nothing inevitable about this,' the Guardian newspaper quoted him as telling politicians on Tuesday. 'A solution to the Gibraltar dispute has eluded Britain and Spain for over 300 year - it may continue to elude us.'

He explained that the aim of the talks was to resolve the 'festering' dispute between the UK and Spain over the low tax jurisdiction, and to provide Gibraltar with greater self-government.

However, the aims of the Spanish government seem to be slightly different - namely full Spanish sovereignty over the Rock at some point in the future - which led the Europe Minister to reveal that: 'We would rather have no deal than a bad deal. The only good deal is one that advances both British interests and Gibraltar's interests - we will not sign up to anything else.'

Despite Mr Hain's reassurances that the final decision lies in their hands, the fears of Gibraltarian residents are unlikely to have been allayed by his words. Although the Rock's citizens are likely to vote overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting joint sovereignty proposals if the question is put to them in a referendum, the jurisdiction's government feels that whatever conclusions are reached by the UK and Spain in these talks will hang over Gibraltar in perpetuity.

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