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UK Tory Party Weighs Into Gibraltar Debate

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

15 May 2002

Speaking following a one-day visit to Gibraltar, the UK's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram stated that talks between the Spanish and British governments over Gibraltarian sovereignty should be halted.

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Ancram stressed that there is division within the UK government over the issue, with Ministry of Defense Secretary, Geoff Hoon arguing against the very deal which Jack Straw is desperate to wrap up with the Spanish, on the grounds that any agreement on joint sovereignty could affect the operational capability of the naval base and airfield based on the Rock.

According to the Panorama news service, Mr Ancram stated that the dispute should be resolved using the Northern Ireland formula, reasoning that as joint sovereignty is clearly unacceptable to the Gibraltarian population, and will almost certainly be rejected in a referendum, there seems little point in discussing it.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary reportedly told a Spanish newspaper that he favoured 'three-sided' talks, with the Gibraltar government having the right to participate in discussions in its own right.

This follows Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw's recent flying visit, which represented a PR disaster as far as the image-concious Labour Party is concerned. Media reports following Mr Straw's departure demonstrated that, rather than making the population of the Rock feel that their voice had been heard by the UK government, the visit merely served to ruffle everyone's feathers, from demonstrators and the media, up to government level.

'Mr Straw's visit was...the worst organised, the most chaotic and the most mishandled visit by any member of the UK government,' Panorama stated on Monday, explaining that: 'The local press were badly handled, with some being discriminated against.' The newspaper added that: 'Details of his visit were not released - not even to the police! - until a few hours before his arrival.'

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