18 July 2002 Edition

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Enclave turf wars


The British government has confirmed that it has agreed in principle to share sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain. The announcement came from the foreign secretary Jack Straw in the House of Commons on 12 July, although final negotiations have been delayed until the autumn over Britain's insistence that it retains a military base on the Rock and that any eventual deal would be permanent.

Whilst the outcome of negotiations would be the subject of a referendum, the announcement is an historic recognition that Spain does have a legitimate claim to the Rock, which was ceded to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.

In his statement, Straw told the House of Commons that the ongoing dispute with Spain is "damaging to Britain's interests because we are trying to build a strategic alliance with Spain to help deliver the European Union that we both seek, and because Spain has repeatedly blocked European measures we want.

"Above all, the dispute affects the 30,000 Gibraltarians; but it also affects 60 million Britons. It needs to be solved for good. I know that there are those who think we should simply tackle the practical irritants faced by Gibraltarians, but that has been tried for decades and it has failed. The only way of securing a stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar is through a comprehensive and permanent settlement of the dispute, and that means an agreement with Spain on all issues including sovereignty."

The announcement came after an extraordinary statement by John Taylor, Lord Kilclooney, in the British House of Lords requesting that Gibraltar be included in the "constituency of Northern Ireland" and its inhabitants allowed to vote in local as well as European elections.

Taylor justified the bizarre request by claiming that "Northern Ireland is Gibraltar's natural home" because "the tallest building in Gibraltar is called Ballymena House" and because "a large number of people from Gibraltar were moved to parts of Northern Ireland during the Second World War - As a result, many Gibraltarians were born in Northern Ireland". Happily for Taylor and the UUP, the Rock's 30,000 inhabitants are also, as it happens, virulently pro-British.

Hands off the Parsley

Elsewhere, things have not been going as swimmingly in the sovereignty stakes for the Spanish. Relations between Spain and Morocco have been seriously damaged this week in an unresolved dipute over ownership of the Meditteranean islet of Perejil (in Spanish, the word for parsley).

Morocco deployed troops to the uninhabited islet during the week, which has been in Spanish posession for more than 200 years. They did not have far to travel, as Perejil is just 200 metres off the Moroccan coast. Sent to tackle "secret migration, drug trafficking and terrorism" in the 12-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar, the Moroccan troops were swiftly joined by four Spanish warships. Both countries refused to back down, with Spain receiving the support of Nato and the EU in its calls for an immediate Moroccan withdrawal. The European Commission warned that Moroccan relations with the EU could be jeopardised by the occupation.

On Wednesday, the Spanish announced that its forces had recaptured the islet without firing a shot, ousting around 12 Moroccan soldiers.

Spain is less concerned with Perejil than about the future of its two Gibraltar-like enclaves on the coast of Morocco itself, Ceuta and Melilla.

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