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18 Jun 2002 : Column 22WH


11 am

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your recent knighthood. Everyone present was delighted to hear of it, and no one deserves the honour more than you. I am particularly pleased that our debate is about Gibraltar, because you have spoken about it on numerous occasions and have been a steadfast defender of the rights of the people of that British overseas territory.

I raise this issue because the people of Gibraltar have a right to be heard in this place. They cannot elect a representative to the House of Commons, yet Parliament and our British Government make decisions on their behalf. Since this subject was selected for debate, several hon. Members have spoken to me of their support and of the need to keep the issue alive. There is a great fear that the Government are letting down the people of Gibraltar behind closed doors and betraying their rights and interests, so I make no apology to the Minister for once again raising the issue in Westminster Hall.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know how frustrating it is for us to keep having to debate this issue. Imagine our constituents' anger if we regularly had to debate their rights and freedoms in the Chamber. Imagine the anger in the Minister's constituency if we regularly had to debate his constituents' rights and freedoms. It is utterly wrong that the present situation continues.

I proposed this debate because the discussions on Gibraltar have gone on long enough, and the people of Gibraltar have a right to expect a speedy conclusion. I understand that the Prime Minister is meeting the Prime Minister of Spain today, and I hope that the Minister will convey to him the strength of feeling in Parliament, among the British people and among those who live on the great rock of Gibraltar. I hope that the Prime Minister conveys those sentiments to the Prime Minister of Spain and that he realises that the game is up: he has no support for his plan to betray the people of Gibraltar. He should realise that he has misjudged the mood of our people and that he should ditch the entire ill-conceived process.

I am saddened by the need yet again to debate the Government's disgraceful and irresponsible attitude to Gibraltar and its people. The Government persist in their course of selling out the 30,000 loyal British subjects of that British Crown colony to Spain. They seem increasingly desperate to pursue that policy, despite the evidence that there is no support for it, except among some Labour Members, although only a few of them are here to support it.

Before I continue, however, I should like to convey the apologies of the chairman of the all-party Gibraltar group, the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), who is in Hong Kong with a parliamentary delegation. He asked me to convey the feelings of the all-party group, of which I am secretary, and to say that the people of Gibraltar deserve better. The hon. Member for Chorley, a Labour Member, is not alone in holding that view, because there is much anger among Labour Back Benchers about the issue of Gibraltar. The fact that the

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hon. Member for Chorley has articulated that anger on so many occasions proves that he has a great deal more integrity than some members of the Government.

Gibraltar is British, and its people want to remain so; who can blame them for that? That is unquestionable to anyone who has ever gone anywhere near the place or read reports of visits there. That is also clear from the recent visit to the rock by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who, in contrast to the cries of "Judas" that greeted the Foreign Secretary, was met with cheers from well-wishers, who thanked him for standing up for their democratic right to remain British and decide their own future. Having visited Gibraltar many times, I know the strength of feeling held by everyone there, their wish never to be ceded to Spain, in any respect, and their sense of betrayal and anger at this Labour Government's refusal to accept those wishes.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): As my hon. Friend knows, I recently visited Gibraltar as a guest of the Government there. Some 30,000 people took to the streets in anger at what our Government are doing in selling out the people of Gibraltar, because they believe, as we do, that the Government should be fighting for their interests. In the Government's discussions with the Spanish Prime Minister, they should be raising the issues of access to Gibraltar, of telecommunications and telephone lines to Gibraltar, and ensuring that Spain becomes a friend of Gibraltar, instead of wanting to poach people whose only crime is wanting to remain British.

Mr. Rosindell : What my hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. It is the duty of any British Government, of whatever political persuasion, to defend the interests, rights and freedoms of British people anywhere in the world. The Minister has a duty to the people of Gibraltar, yet he ignores their concerns, fears and wishes.

I draw an analogy between the Spanish Government's attitude to Gibraltar and the attitude of the former Argentine Government to the British territories of the Falkland Islands. I had the pleasure of visiting Argentina in 1996. The Argentines have relinquished their claim over the Falkland Islands because they are mature and realise that it is better to form good relations and to befriend the Falkland islanders than to bully them, as the previous undemocratic Government did.

Only last week, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, and Argentina is now a democracy. One would be forgiven, however, for wondering whether Spain is a democratic country, because the Spanish Government's attitude and tactics are disgraceful. The Spanish Government should take a leaf out of the Argentine Government's book and change their attitude. They will never win friends or influence the Gibraltarian people if they continue with their approach, so I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley for making a valid point.

At this point, I would like to mention that the Minister and Foreign Secretary have said on numerous occasions that the so-called Brussels process was initiated by a Conservative Government. I have some

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news that I would like to convey to the Minister. Yesterday evening, I spoke to the noble Baroness Thatcher and informed her that the Foreign Secretary and the Minister had used her name in connection with the Brussels process on many occasions on the Floor of the House. She was incandescent at the suggestion that the actions of the Labour Government today are a result of a process that she initiated.

Baroness Thatcher told me that she was appalled at the prospect of the rights and freedoms of loyal British subjects in Gibraltar being sold down the river. She said, "Gibraltar must remain British." I ask the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all Members of the Government to desist from using Baroness Thatcher's name in this context, because it is dishonest and wrong.

On 7 November 2001, the Minister commented that, on his visit to Gibraltar he had found that

What the Minister omitted to say, and the reason why the Government are going so badly wrong, is that they lack understanding about what drives that pride. Gibraltarians are not proud to be a political football between the United Kingdom and Spanish Governments. They are proud to be British, and it is astonishing that the Minister or a member of any British Government cannot understand that.

Hon. Members should consider the demonstrations mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley that took place in Gibraltar on 18 March. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people—about 90 per cent. of the population—took to the streets to express their disgust at the Government's position. Imagine 90 per cent. of the Minister's constituents deciding to demonstrate on the streets of Neath. Would he ignore their wishes? He would not be a Member of Parliament for long if he did, and nor would any of us. That enormous display of anger and fear about their own future shows that the people of Gibraltar have spoken. It is time for the Government to acknowledge those wishes.

Furthermore, according to recent opinion polls such as that undertaken by MORI in March, 80 per cent. of people in Britain support Gibraltar's right to self-determination. A staggering 300,000 supportive messages and 45,000 e-mails reached the Government of Gibraltar office in London following press advertisements. Only the British Government continue to ignore Gibraltar's wish to remain British in its entirety and in perpetuity.

Two weeks ago, we all celebrated the magnificent occasion of Her Majesty the Queen's golden jubilee. It was an occasion for all British people, including the people of Gibraltar, to celebrate 50 years of our Queen being on the throne of our country. During the week of celebrations, a national newspaper said:

It is a shameful indictment of this Government that, during the Queen's golden jubilee, they are betraying 30,000 of her most loyal subjects. The Government must realise that they have given the impression that they are betraying those people, even if they do not consider that

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they are doing that. They must acknowledge that, and they must end what has been described in that national newspaper as "a squalid campaign".

I turn to Spain, which is the country that would like to incorporate Gibraltar into its own kingdom. Spain is, supposedly, a modern, democratic European nation state, and I congratulate the King and the people of Spain on the enormous progress that their country has made during the past 20 years with regard to becoming a democratic country. However, it saddens me that an ally of ours—a country that is a member of the European Union and NATO—should continue to treat a small territory that is adjacent to it in such an appalling and undemocratic fashion. Although Gibraltar is historically and geographically close to the kingdom of Spain, it cannot be right that Spain—a modern, democratic country—should continue to treat Gibraltar in such a way.

I offer some quotes from a speech that the chairman of the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses made at a recent meeting of the Congress for Democracy. She highlights many of the areas where Spain is behaving not as a modern, democratic country that respects human rights, but as a country that one would be surprised to learn is a democracy on the evidence of its behaviour to Gibraltar. She said:

She went on to say:

That is a valid point.

Her third point is as follows:

I am glad that she made that point because my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley and I had that experience only four months ago. We attempted to fly to Gibraltar, but we were diverted to Tangiers, because the kingdom of Spain—which is our friend and ally—would not allow the Gibraltarian flight to land in Malaga. We had to go to Tangier, where the flight had to be designated as a Tangier-Gibraltar flight. What country would treat an ally and a friend in such a way? What democratic country can justify such actions?

Marie Lou Guerrero continues:

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Those of us who have been to Gibraltar have seen those queues, and they are a disgrace. How can a fellow member of the European Union behave in such an obnoxious manner toward the kind, generous people of Gibraltar? How can it justify such actions?

Marie Lou Guerrero's final point is:

The evidence is very clear, but does the Minister speak up for the people of Gibraltar? Not a bit of it. He continues to compromise with the Spanish Government. He continues to pander to the Spanish Government and to those in Brussels who want to see an end to territories such as Gibraltar throughout Europe.

I make no apologies for raising my next point. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition recently planned to visit Spain and meet the Prime Minister of Spain. That meeting was cancelled at short notice. How can the Prime Minister of Spain, who is the leader of a centre-right party, deny the leader of another centre-right party the opportunity of a bilateral meeting?

What is the Spanish Government's obsession that means that they cannot see that there are greater objectives in a modern world and a modern Europe than simply arguing over Gibraltar? It is utterly wrong that Spain chooses to behave in such a manner. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly continued on his visit to Gibraltar and ignored the Madrid Government's strong objection. It is time that the Prime Minister and Ministers in our British Government showed that same integrity and sense of duty on the issue.

Our Government are losing the debate on Gibraltar and resorting to the old tactic of discrediting their enemies and those who highlight how wrong they are. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs' complaint to the Chief Minister about the lack of financial information from Gibraltar is part of that desperate and dishonourable tactic because Gibraltar is regarded as one of the best-regulated financial centres in the world.

During the past four years, Gibraltar has enacted strict new banking and financial codes. Gibraltar's financial services industry has met the standards set by many international organisations including the United States' Internal Revenue Service. Only last March, the industry received a glowing endorsement from the International Monetary Fund. The industry also follows European Union financial regulations. Yet the Foreign Secretary has even accused Gibraltar of failing to inform the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of financial information pertaining to the territory. How desperate must the Government be to make such unfounded accusations?

The facts are clear. All the Government's revenue and expenditure in Gibraltar is scrutinised by the House of Assembly at the time of the Budget, published and then passed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. What could be simpler than that? The accounting and

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financial affairs of Gibraltarian Ministers are controlled by the Accountant-General. The accounts are scrutinised by the House of Assembly. Equally, the Government's procurement contracts are put to tender in an open and transparent manner.

Amid such despicable allegations, the Government wonder why the Chief Minister will not attend talks on sovereignty. Mr. Caruana is to be commended on taking such a position of principle. There should be nothing to discuss in the first place. If there were, it should be when Spain will drop its totally unfounded claim to Gibraltar. As secretary to the all-party group on Gibraltar, I receive letters, e-mails and messages from people throughout the country about this subject.

Yesterday, I met two constituents in Romford who are Gibraltarian and who wanted to protest about the Government's actions. One of whom was Charles King, a local artist. He has painted a magnificent portrait of the rock of Gibraltar, depicting the Barbary apes and the Union flag. Sadly, in the portrait that he has so skilfully crafted, the Union flag appears to be fading in the background. It is so disappointing that a native Gibraltarian who now lives in Britain feels the need to depict such imagery.

I hope that the Minister will consider the emotion surrounding the matter and the fear among Gibraltarian people, both living on the rock and in the United Kingdom. The brother of my other constituent, Lucy Cahill, designed many of the stamps and commemorative memorabilia of Gibraltar. I thank both of those constituents for their help in our campaign to keep Gibraltar British.

The Minister should realise that he and his Government have aroused anger and fear about their real motives in respect of Gibraltar and how such action connects with their overall strategy of taking Britain further into the European Union and the Brussels monstrosity. If the issue of Gibraltar is ever to be settled, the territory must indeed—as the Minister for Europe wrote in Tribune—"be decolonised". In accordance with the overwhelming wish of its people, Gibraltar must be allowed to achieve devolved integration with the United Kingdom. France, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark have all to varying degrees incorporated their overseas territories, with the result that they are constitutionally stable and not subject to repeated debates and referendums on their future. Devolved integration would be a modern, European, lasting solution to the Gibraltar issue.

I wish now to put some specific and awkward questions to the Government about their mishandling of the Gibraltar issue. First, what precisely are the legal grounds for the Minister for Europe's claim, made in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee last year, that the integration of Gibraltar would contravene the treaty of Utrecht? Legal opinion suggests that integration would be compatible with that treaty. Secondly, given that Spain secured the duty-free status of its integrated territories in north Africa with the European Union, why does the Minister for Europe feel that Gibraltar's special tax status would be a barrier to integration? Thirdly, why have the Government made no move to refer the question of Gibraltar's constitutional standing to the International Court of

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Justice? Until that happens, the Government can continue to claim that any constitutional settlement emanating from Gibraltar contravenes the treaty of Utrecht.

Fourthly, on what legal basis does the Government hold that the treaty of Utrecht remains valid? The treaty has already been broken by Spain's repeated sieges of Gibraltar and by the presence of Jewish and Moorish populations, prohibited by the treaty. It has been superseded both by the treaty of Rome and the United Nations' declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples. The treaty was written in an age when states signed over territories with little regard for their inhabitants, and it is totally incompatible with the democratic age.

It is the treaty that is the anachronism, not Gibraltar. I hope that the Government will finally open their eyes and see the reality of the situation. They are trampling over the people's democratic right to decide for themselves. It is not as if the people are divided on the issue; indeed, nearly everyone on the rock of Gibraltar wants to remain British. Barely anyone in Gibraltar supports a move towards unification with Spain, so why do the Government pursue that policy? There is a great danger that if the casual and flippant attitude of the Government and the feeling of betrayal continue, a much larger problem will loom on the horizon.

Gibraltar must remain British, and the Government should realise that the future of the rock must be stabilised. The only way to achieve that is for the Government to end this so-called "process", to end the discussions, to stand up for the rights of the British people of Gibraltar and to do the duty that they were elected to do. They should defend British people, instead of appeasing Spain and pursuing the wider goal of promoting British participation in everything that comes from Brussels.

11.32 am

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I join the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) in congratulating you on your knighthood, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You and I have known each other for many years and the award, which brings enormous pleasure to you and your family, brings equal pleasure to your many colleagues on both sides of the House.

I welcome the debate on Gibraltar, as will many hon. Members. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Romford on his luck in obtaining the debate. I have taken a close interest in the affairs of Gibraltar and have taken part in debates on the subject for many years. I have visited Gibraltar on several occasions. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am privileged to be the chairperson of the United Kingdom Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and I remind all hon. Members and my right hon. Friend the Minister that Gibraltar is a member of the Commonwealth. The role that I play in the UK branch brings me into regular contact with many parliamentarians from Gibraltar, and we often discuss that issue.

The remarks that I shall make today are my own, but I tell the Minister that many members of Commonwealth Parliaments feel deep concern about what they see as the actions taken by the British and Spanish Governments towards Gibraltar. All of the Government's future

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actions will be watched closely by fellow members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a family of nations. Whether the matter involves the richer or the poorer members, we closely support the rights of a fellow Commonwealth country when, as I believe is happening to Gibraltar, its rights and the voice of its people are being ignored.

I welcome this debate and the others that have taken place. As the hon. Member for Romford says, it is essential to ensure that the issue is never allowed to disappear. It now receives prominent coverage. It is unbelievable that the British Government are still closely involved in discussions with the Spanish Government on the future of Gibraltar.

The British Government know the views of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, parliamentarians of all political parties and, above all, the people of Gibraltar about any attempt to give Spain any control over the day-to-day affairs of Gibraltar. They have been told that in referendums and in the many letters that the people of Gibraltar write to us—not the standard letters that we all receive to which someone merely attaches a Member's name or which are merely signed, but letters written by men and women in their own handwriting that clearly express their views on this important subject. The message is clear: "Leave us alone." That is what they are saying. They want nothing to do with the proposals of the British or Spanish Governments about their future.

No one learned that better than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on his recent visit to Gibraltar. There were thousands of people on the streets and thousands of Union Jacks on display. However, I did not read a single poster that said, "Welcome Jack. Jack, you're our friend. Jack, we trust you with our future." I did not see one poster displaying such sentiments on the part of the people of Gibraltar. However, I did see many other posters that clearly showed the true feeling of the people of Gibraltar towards the British Government and my right hon. Friend. Have they not yet got the message,"Leave us alone"?

As the hon. Member for Romford says, vast numbers of people in the United Kingdom fully support the views now being expressed by the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, and he is joined in his view by many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. I fully support his action in not attending the talks between the British and Spanish Governments, as I do not believe that he is accorded equal respect. He is the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and was elected in a democratically run election. He speaks with the overwhelming and massive support of the people of Gibraltar, who completely trust him in looking after their interests and those of Gibraltar. Yet there is no evidence that his views—the true views of Gibraltar and its people—will be listened to and acted on.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regularly says that he fully supports democracy, human rights and the voices of free people. No one could say that the people of Gibraltar are not free. No one could say that they do not have a voice in the crucial negotiations taking place, so why do the British Government not listen to that voice? I would not expect the Spanish Government to listen. Many of us know them of old and know the behaviour that they have shown to Gibraltar

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and its people over many years, as the hon. Member for Romford outlined. However, I would expect the British Government to listen.

I am one of the United Kingdom's representatives on the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. Two weeks ago, commencing on 3 June, the assembly of the WEU met in Paris. One of the main speakers was the Defence Minister of Spain, Mr. Trillo-Figueroa, who represented the presidency of the WEU and the European Union. He made a lengthy speech in which he repeatedly mentioned the importance of human rights, freedom and listening to public opinion. Never did he mention Gibraltar or the discussions between the British and Spanish Governments.I pointed that out and asked him, given his repeated comments on democracy, for his views on the discussions and the clear opinion expressed by the people of Gibraltar.

I have with me the full transcript of that speech and my question. We are not talking about an unknown Back Bencher of the Spanish Parliament, but the Defence Minister of Spain. In his reply to me, he did not once mention the views of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar or of the people of Gibraltar. He talked about the treaty of Utrecht and international law. In his closing comments, he said that he hoped that the Governments of the UK and Spain would have reached agreement on Gibraltar by the end of the year. What arrogance to assume that! He gave no suggestion that he would listen in any way to the views of the people of Gibraltar.

My right hon. Friend the Minister and I know, as do many other Members of the House, that the people of Gibraltar do not trust Spain. That is regrettable, but true. My right hon. Friend has a job of work to do; he must try to defend and sell the proposals. I was a Minister during the premierships of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan many years ago, and often had to defend policies that I was not very happy with. However, knowing my right hon. Friend's background in defending democracy and human rights, I cannot believe that, deep in his heart, he can feel happy in seeking to defend the negotiations.

All of us, whatever party we belong to, are deeply concerned at the lack of interest in politics, the lack of trust in politicians and the appalling low-percentage turnouts at elections. The hon. Member for Romford referred to the volume of letters and e-mails. Given our deep concerns, does my right hon. Friend really think that the electors of this country will have their opinion of and trust in politicians enhanced if they believe that the British and Spanish Governments are driving the matter through, irrespective of what the people of Gibraltar have clearly said? I want the relationship between the United Kingdom and Spain to improve. I repeatedly meet Spanish parliamentarians, and I like them; they serve on a committee that I have chaired at the Council of Europe. However, we are considering the rights of people who have loyally shown their allegiance to this country. This country should now show its allegiance to them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton ):Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind hon. Members that we must allow the Minister time to respond. I hope that not only Back Benchers but those who will sum up from the Front Bench will use self-discipline.

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11.45 am

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): May I join in the consensus by expressing my pleasure that you have been so rightly honoured, Sir Nicholas? I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on securing the debate, which seems to be a regular feature in this Chamber. We have debated Gibraltar several times in the past few months and it is appropriate, given the meetings that are going on, that we should debate it again. I shall keep my comments brief.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) said about Gibraltar's relationship with the Commonwealth; that is worth remembering. Equally, it is sometimes difficult to remember, when one listens to Government speeches, that Gibraltar is also a member of the EU, which it entered, together with the UK, in 1973. It is a European territory, for whose external relations a member state, in this instance the United Kingdom, is responsible. Accordingly, article 227(4) of the EC treaty applies. That is difficult to believe when one reads articles by the Minister—the most recent in The House Magazine—about the impediments posed to our relationship with the EU by Gibraltar. He says that there has been the usual scaremongering about the Government's intentions by those who should know better. However, we are entitled to ask what the Government's ultimate intention is. It is far from clear.

Why do the Government always appear to be taking Spain's side, rather than championing the rights of the people of Gibraltar, for whom they are responsible? The Prime Minister is meeting Mr. Aznar. He has also had the opportunity of meeting the Chief Minister—an invitation that, to date, he has declined. It is worth remembering why the Chief Minister will not come to the talks under the present restrictions. It is all about terms, and the terms are all important. In Spain's words, the Chief Minister was invited merely to express an opinion on matters of his competence. That is extraordinary, given that the Spanish Foreign Minister, Mr. Pique, said that the opinion of the people of Gibraltar "is not relevant" to the question of sovereignty. In other words, as the Chief Minister says,

He is right. I ask the Minister to address the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford that the International Court of Justice should revisit the treaty of Utrecht, and all breaches of agreements over the centuries. Does the Minister agree that if the matter were to be referred to the court, we should abide once and for all by the outcome?

I invite the Minister to comment on the suggestion made in Fiji last month by the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Azopardi, who proposed using more balanced language in draft seminar conclusion No. 48. He called for the replacement of the reference to the UK and Spain in the description of the process of dialogue by a reference to "interested parties", which would obviously include the Gibraltar Government on behalf of the people of Gibraltar. More important, it called also for the inclusion of a reference to the outcome having to be in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. The Minister will not be surprised

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to hear that Spain rejected that idea, but I believe that it is worthy of consideration. I invite him to address that point.

11.50 am

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): May I add, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the congratulations on your richly deserved honour? I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on securing this important debate and on introducing it so ably.

We have had three debates in Westminster Hall on the subject of Gibraltar since last autumn. It is worth noting that, in previous debates, the Government have at least been able to drum up support from a handful of Back Benchers. As we have clearly seen today, they cannot get one Back Bencher from more than 400 Labour MPs to turn up.

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) : They are on Select Committee business.

Mr. Francois : They cannot all be attending Select Committees. The Government cannot get the support of their Back Benchers, which is telling.

We know that there is no support in Gibraltar for what the Government propose. We have heard of the demonstration on 18 March, when more than 25,000 people—about 90 per cent. of the population—demonstrated vociferously against what the Government were proposing. When the Foreign Secretary visited Gibraltar, he was given the mass equivalent of what is described in the Army as an interview without coughing.

Discussions on the subject have been undertaken above the heads of the people of Gibraltar, and without their support—in their name, but without their consent. Equally, there is no support in Britain for the proposals. We have already heard that some 80 per cent. of those polled by MORI said that they supported Gibraltar's right to self determination; and 300,000 responses to a newspaper advertising campaign and 45,000 e-mails give a clear indication of popular opinion in Britain.

As in previous debates, we have not yet been given a satisfactory answer as to why the Government are continuing to push ahead when it is evident that the people of Gibraltar and of Great Britain do not want what is proposed. Why are the Government investing so much political capital in such an obviously unpopular process? Many believe that the Government have gone to all the trouble not for the welfare of those who live on the rock but to secure Spanish votes in the European Union. Ultimately, the Government are prepared to sell 30,000 people down the river so that, at certain EU meetings over the next few years, the Spanish Government representative will raise his hand when the British Government representative asks him so to do. This was always going to be a sordid deal, and the longer the process has gone on, the more sordid it has become.

I realise that Front-Bench Members wish to speak, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I agreed to keep my remarks brief. I shall conclude quickly. It has been widely reported that the talks are now stalled and that the momentum of the process, such as it was, has faltered. I very much hope that that is the case. If it is, will the Minister finally lay the issue to rest today to clarify the

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whole business? That would allow the people of Gibraltar and of Great Britain to celebrate Gibraltar's remaining British. After all, that is all that the people of Gibraltar have asked for. The Government's initiative has gone on for long enough and appears to have run into serious trouble. It has no support on the rock and none in this country. It is a child with no parents and this orphan should finally be laid to rest.

11.55 am

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Sir Nicholas, may I add to the burden of congratulation under which you labour? I congratulate you on your recent richly deserved honour. I am sure that it will be a difficult week for you, dodging compliments around the Palace.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on securing this debate on a subject that remains extremely topical—as each contributor has made clear—yet curiously unresolved. It is nearly five months since we last debated the subject in this Chamber and we have not discussed it on the Floor of the House during that period. The status of the negotiations is still unclear, as are the Government's objectives. Officially, we are given a lot of general themes, but not many specifics.

The hon. Member for Romford said that he understood that the Prime Minister was meeting with his Spanish counterpart. He was right to be wary because, compared with previous meetings between the two Prime Ministers, there has been no advance publicity, no speculation and no—dare I say it—spinning. My office checked with the Downing street press office just to make sure that the meeting was still going ahead and received confirmation that it was. I hope that something will emerge from the meeting other than the usual nice words to the effect that the talks were conducted in a friendly and constructive atmosphere. Such phrases are all very well, but we need to know whether there is a chance of anybody agreeing anything.

The Liberal Democrats take a slightly different position from those Members who have already spoken, in that we support the talks—the Brussels process—whoever started them and whether or not they remain committed to them. We firmly believe that without discussions nothing can ever change and we regret that the representatives of Gibraltar have not felt comfortable with the process and are not party to those talks, although the Minister will no doubt remind us that they have an open invitation to join in.

To be successful, the discussions will require a deal between the Governments. Based on what the Minister has said before, there will then be negotiations with the Gibraltar authorities and, after that, an endorsement of the conclusions will be sought from the people of Gibraltar. That sounds simple enough but the realities are pretty stark, never mind the apparent lack of progress between the Governments over the issue of sovereignty and the problem of the bases in particular.

Even if that problem can be overcome, the mood of the people of Gibraltar is negative to say the least. There is probably more chance of Scotland winning the World cup than of the UK Government holding sway in a referendum. In the past few months, a number of diplomatic efforts have been made to persuade

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Gibraltarians that the rock is safe. There have been salvos in the local newspapers and even visits by the Foreign Secretary. That process has not been particularly successful. Members have already mentioned the dramatic demonstrations on 18 March, followed by the advertising blitz in the United Kingdom in the middle of May.

Whatever one's views of the Government's tactics or actions, the message from Gibraltar is clear enough. The residents do not trust what the Government and the Spanish Government are up to. After 300 years of British sovereignty, they fear that they will not even have 300 days before they are bounced into new arrangements. However, it does not have to be like that. I have already stated that we support the Brussels process, but I repeat our previous assertions that the three parties must be encouraged to be part of that process.

The Government have set out their four objectives for resolving the dispute: to preserve the Gibraltarian way of life; to offer greater self-government; to improve the practical benefits, whether in access to telecommunications, health services or in other areas; and to achieve an agreement on sovereignty. All that would help Gibraltar by assisting the United Kingdom in pushing its wider European Union agenda.

Gibraltar clearly wants to achieve most of those objectives, even if it is nervous about sovereignty, which may be a slight understatement. Spain also needs to see the bigger picture and wants to remove what it perceives as historical difficulties. Everyone has something to gain from the process, but the process seems designed to fail.

Trust must be the key; the only way in which any settlement will succeed is by winning the trust of the population as a whole. Some may seek to disparage those who lead the campaigns in Gibraltar, but the people of the rock will not be won round if they do not know the outline terms of the discussions between Governments, what form subsequent negotiations with Gibraltarian authorities might take, what period will be allowed for deliberations and what type of question will be asked in the referendum.

Finally, on an issue that has not been focused on today, what happens to any intergovernmental settlement if the referendum is lost, as looks likely? The Government have said that, in that instance, the settlement will not apply but that we cannot uninvent the deal. Perhaps we cannot, but we can formally withdraw from it and confirm that future discussions will start afresh. The people of Gibraltar deserve reassurances on that point and many others.

No one would choose to start from here with the process, given the almost certain prospect of failure. However, with the reality that the Gibraltarian authorities are not participating, a new approach is desperately needed. If the Government are still committed to a referendum, they, too, must be pragmatic about its prospects. Others must play their part. Gibraltar should be encouraged to participate, and Spain needs to pursue genuine and wholehearted confidence-building measures.

The Government in the United Kingdom need to reframe the whole process fundamentally. They must be clear about the measures under negotiation: preserving the Gibraltarian way of life; promoting greater self-

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government; and easing restrictions on everyday life. They must be straightforward about the terms of negotiation on sovereignty and realistic about the need for a decent period to discuss the conclusions of negotiations. They must also be fair-minded—dare I suggest—about the subsequent referendum process.

It has so far taken 300 years to get us to the present stage. The impression is often given that we have only another 300, or perhaps only 30, days to sort matters out. If that remains the strategy, a huge rebuff is in the offing. The process is right in concept but wrong in execution, and it is doomed to failure.

12.3 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): First, I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on introducing the debate and on taking such a lively interest in the subject of Gibraltar and foreign affairs in general. My hon. Friend has posed three key questions, to which I hope the Minister responds. I congratulate all other hon. Members who have participated in the debate.

The negotiations with Spain that the Government have conducted—or, rather, misconducted—may have stalled. Given the Government's efforts to bully the Gibraltarians into accepting a deal on joint sovereignty to which they are totally opposed, we would certainly welcome the stalling of the talks, which would give us an opportunity for some fresh thinking. The Government must not suggest that a deal could lie in abeyance, only to reconstitute it later. Given the reported difficulties in the negotiations, today would be an excellent time to announce the suspension of the talks. Doing so would bring great relief to the 30,000 residents of Gibraltar. As my hon. Friends have observed, hundreds of thousands of people in this country have written letters and e-mails in support of the Gibraltarians' right not to have imposed on them a future that they do not want.

Under normal circumstances, I have considerable regard for the Minister, but I must tell him that the talks are a sad reflection on the Government's competence, and show their disregard for Gibraltarians' rights. From the start, the talks have been ill thought-out, and the Government's language has been inflammatory and marked by their incorrigible habit of employing bullying spin. I am sure that the Minister recalls his Parliamentary Private Secretary talking of massive smuggling in Gibraltar, even though it was perfectly clear that there was no basis for that allegation. The Spanish Government provided no evidence to support it. I once again call on the Minister to apologise for that remark.

There are many other examples of such behaviour, including accusations of money laundering and of pensions being owed to Spanish workers. That is all part of the Government's reprehensible use of the black arts of propaganda against the people of Gibraltar. As a result of such intemperate language, people there have no confidence in the Government's ability to look after their interests. The Minister has mocked their numbers and claimed that they are stuck in the past, have been left behind and do not do what the Government want. How can such talk be at all constructive or help to resolve the problems?

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From the beginning of the negotiations, the Government held out the carrot of joint sovereignty for Spain, even though they should have known that the people of Gibraltar did not want it and that it would not be enough for the Spanish. Ministers gave way and offered what they could not deliver. It took them months to accept our "two flags and three voices" formula for the talks. If they had done so earlier, we might have been in a better situation than we are now.

Ministers apparently hit on the idea of leaving a joint declaration of proposals hanging, regardless of whether the people of Gibraltar rejected them. I call on the Government to agree that any such joint declaration will be null and void if the people of Gibraltar reject it in a referendum. We had hints in Foreign Office questions in April that the Government might have accepted our argument, and today's debate would give the Minister a good opportunity to calm anxieties in Gibraltar and in the House, and to redeem the mess that the Government have created in the negotiations.

I should make it clear to the Minister that no incoming Conservative Government would feel bound by any agreement on surrendering Gibraltar's sovereignty or by any agreement that had not received the assent of the people of Gibraltar.

The Spanish have said that they will never give up their sole claim to Gibraltar and that, although an agreement on shared sovereignty might be long-lasting, it cannot be fully accepted until the issue of full Spanish sovereignty is tackled. They have said that they will not accept an agreement that does not give Spain joint use of the military base in Gibraltar. With good sense, the Secretary of State for Defence noted how unpopular the talks were and how unacceptable it would be for Britain to have anything less than full control and sovereignty over the military base in Gibraltar.

In short, the Government have bungled the negotiations and shown a bizarre dismissal of the democratic wishes of the people of Gibraltar. As we have heard, Gibraltar has been subject to harassment by Spain, and talks with Spain are needed to resolve those problems. Spain is a good friend and ally of the UK, which is what makes this all so painful. It is surely in everyone's best interests that Gibraltar and Spain should have a good and neighbourly working relationship. Both Gibraltar and Spain would profit from that, and the Brussels process was set in motion to try to achieve it.

I hope and trust that the Minister will take this opportunity to inform the House about the current state of the talks and tell us when we can expect a meeting between the respective Foreign Ministers. We know that the Prime Ministers are currently meeting. I hope that he will also say whether the Government still expect the talks to be concluded by the summer and, if not, what effect their failure will have on British-Spanish relations. We want a clear statement on what will happen if the proposals are rejected by the people of Gibraltar and what their status would then be in the eyes of the British Government.

In November, the Minister asked the people of Gibraltar to judge the Government on their actions. The Gibraltarians' view of the Government's conduct was made clear by the reception given to the Foreign Secretary on his recent visit. By contrast, my right hon.

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Friends the shadow Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition were given the most warm and spontaneous welcome by the people of Gibraltar, which said it all. Support for the liberties of the people of Gibraltar extends to all parts of the House of Commons—it is not a party political issue—and that has come through loud and clear in all our debates on the matter.

The Government should respect the clear judgment already made by the people of Gibraltar, acknowledge the harm that the Government's incompetence has done to relations between Britain and Gibraltar—and, indeed, between Britain and Spain—and suspend the talks immediately. Rarely in our long history have a British Government conducted themselves with such a lack of sensitivity and succeeded in infuriating everyone concerned.

Echoing the words of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the Minister has a proud record of defending people's democratic and human rights over many years. I ask him to reflect on what has happened to Gibraltar and on the pressures being placed on the people of Gibraltar by the Government. In the interests of everyone concerned, the talks should be suspended immediately.

12.12 pm

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) : I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Chidgey. I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to join in congratulating your predecessor in the Chair on gaining a knighthood.

I genuinely thank the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) for securing the debate, because it gives me an opportunity to reply on this important subject. I am also grateful for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who has a long and honourable record of working for the Commonwealth, as well as for the contributions of the hon. Members for East Devon (Mr. Swire), for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) and for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring).

The hon. Member for Romford asked me a series of questions, one of which related to the International Court of Justice. The reason why the matter of sovereignty cannot be referred to the International Court of Justice is because both countries must agree to such a referral, and Spain does not recognise the issue as one that comes under the jurisdiction of the ICJ.

I was astonished at the hon. Gentleman's question about statistics because, as the Foreign Secretary said in a letter to the Chief Minister on 19 April 2002, there is a lack of up-to-date statistical information on Gibraltar. A statistical abstract for Gibraltar has not been produced since 1997; five years is a long time without comprehensive official statistics.

In May 1998, a Government-funded consultant reported that Gibraltar's accounts estimates were

There is a question as to whether Gibraltar is complying with its obligations under European Community law on statistics. I should have thought that he would have wanted that matter dealt with, as we are seeking to do with the Government of Gibraltar.

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There has been much talk about spin recently. As the House will know, I do not do spin. I shall set out the facts, clearly and simply. We made it clear from the outset of the negotiations last July that our shared objective was a future in which Gibraltar enjoys greater self-government and the opportunity to reap the full benefits of normal co-existence with the wider region, and that the guiding principle was to build a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar and, yes, for it to retain its traditional British way of life and citizenship.

When the talks come to an end, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement in the House setting out the agreement that we have reached or explaining why we have not reached an agreement. As we have long said and as I told the Chamber on 31 January, there is nothing inevitable about such matters. A solution to the Gibraltar dispute has eluded Britain and Spain for more than 300 years. It may continue to elude us. We may have to wait a while. As we have also made clear, no agreement is better than a bad agreement.

Our objectives in the negotiation are simple. They are to preserve Gibraltar's way of life, establish greater self-government for the people of Gibraltar, deliver lasting practical benefits and a stronger economy and secure a permanent agreement on sovereignty so that Gibraltarians can enjoy security for their way of life—a security that they have not enjoyed during 300 years of dispute. I remember also saying on 31 January that we are negotiating with Spain a framework agreement, a set of principles for a settlement that we would commend to the people of Gibraltar. It would be a basis on which we would invite the Government of Gibraltar to join us in putting flesh on the bones and to work up detailed arrangements that could be put before the people of Gibraltar in a referendum to which we remain committed.

We are not selling out Gibraltar. No deal will be implemented unless the people of Gibraltar agree in a referendum. We are not doing deals over the heads of the Gibraltarians. Contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for East Devon, we offered the Chief Minister—and, through him, the people of Gibraltar—a place at the table from the start. It was always—contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for West Suffolk—on the basis of two flags, three voices. We made it clear that the Chief Minister could help to shape the outcome and that, if he did not like it, he would not be bound by it. He refused. We have not excluded the Gibraltarians; Peter Caruana has.

We are not hiding an already done deal. There may not be one. There will not be one unless it meets our bottom lines. We are not giving Gibraltar away to Spain. As I have made repeatedly clear in the House, there has never been any question of doing so. We are pursuing the negotiation for two reasons: for Gibraltar and for Britain itself.

We are doing it for Gibraltar because Gibraltar will not thrive while the dispute festers. It will not thrive as long as Gibraltarians have to put up with the everyday disruption that they currently endure, such as uncertainty and queues at the border, telephones that do not work and air services that do not fly, to which Opposition Members have referred.Gibraltar will not thrive as long as its economy cannot fully modernise and

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join the new global marketplace, attract new investment, remove barriers that separate it from the wider region or secure full access to the largest single market in the world—the one on its doorstep, that of Europe. Such matters all require an end to the dispute with Spain.

We are entering into such negotiations for Britain.I do not apologise for that, because the dispute is damagingour interests. Our trade with Spain is worth more than £8 billiona year. It supports thousands of British jobs in our constituencies. I am astonished at the anti-Spanish prejudice shown by Conservative Back Benchers.

Mr. Swire : Will the Minister give way?

Peter Hain : Not for the moment. I want to make progress. If I have time, I shall give way later.

Our alliance with Spain in Europe in helping us to deliver a European Union of strong nations and a European economy that creates jobs and prosperity across Britain. However, that relationship remains constrained by the Gibraltar dispute. If we are really going to get the best for Britain out of our links with Spain, we must fix the issue.

Real things are at stake in the EU, too. The dispute has blocked or delayed benefits such as the liberalisation of the European aviation market, in which British companies will do very well. We want measures to make air travel safer, flights cheaper and delays shorter for the British people and British businesses. Those are real things that real people—including our constituents—want, and they are obstructed or delayed by this dispute. The dispute affects not only 30,000 Gibraltarians—although their rights remain paramount—but 59 millionBritons.

We are not doing this for fun. Nobody who saw the treatment that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary received from some of Her Majesty's citizens during his recent visit to the rock would think that. He deserves not abuse but credit for setting out for the people of Gibraltar some difficult home truths that many of them still do not want to hear. That is the honesty and real leadership that people in Britain want from their Government Ministers.

I draw a comparison with the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and with the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). Their strategy has been the complete opposite: to tell the Gibraltarians only what they want to hear.

We are not doing this for the Spanish, either. Anyone present, as I was, at the tough negotiations with the Spanish, would know that it was not some cosy love-in. The truth is that this is an outdated historical dispute that has no place in modern Europe.

It is striking that the speeches from Back Benchers—especially Conservatives—and, despite my admiration for him, from the hon. Member for West Suffolk, put forward no alternative. No clear alternative policy is being put forward by the Conservatives for resolving

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this dispute—only shouting and screaming. We have tried and will continue to try honestly to resolve this dispute.

Mr. Spring : That is an absurd caricature of what the Conservative party has said. There is a powerful echo in this dispute with the way in which the question of Northern Ireland sovereignty was handled. The Republic of Ireland was told from the beginning that there was no question of joint sovereignty. Once the issue of sovereignty was taken away—once that thorn was removed—all other discussions became possible, including on possible relationships across border. That is the basis on which to operate, given what was guaranteed to the people in the treaty of Utrecht. It is a parody for the Minister to say that we have no considered view on how to handle the dispute.

Peter Hain : The real parallel with Northern Ireland is that negotiations took place between parties and groups that had been locked in an historic and bitter dispute. The only way to resolve the dispute is to talk to Spain, which is what we have been trying to do. The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned sovereignty. The Brussels-process negotiations—begun, I say to the hon. Member for Romford, under Baroness Thatcher's Government in 1984 and continued under every successive Tory Administration since then all the way through the 1990s—included the issue of sovereignty. It is part of the Brussels-process framework, launched and agreed by the Conservatives under Baroness Thatcher.

We have come a long way since we and Spain re-opened the talks last year. For the first time in history, we talked honestly and openly about Gibraltar and how to give it a secure future. We have built confidence between Spain and ourselves. The talks have been tough, but we have both reached a better understanding of each other and our respective interests. Whatever happens, I am confident that the strong relationship that the Government have already built with Spain will endure.

We have also seen efforts by Spain, which we have encouraged, to build confidence where it is most needed: between Spain and Gibraltar itself. The second channel at the border opened in March, and queues that sometimes took hours have been cut to minutes. Foreign Minister Josep Pique's personal letter to the Gibraltarians—the first ever by a Spanish Foreign Minister—in which he sought a new relationship and understanding was another example.

We never thought that this was going to be easy, and it has not been. Serious differences remain between us. With regard to the longevity of any agreement to share sovereignty, we insist that it must be certain and enduring; it cannot be a slippery slope to full Spanish sovereignty. We also insist that the military facilities in Gibraltar must remain under British control. However, the most important consideration is the role of the Gibraltarians. We insist that they—rather than Spain or the British Government or anyone else—must decide whether to accept any agreement on sovereignty. It isnow make your mind up time for Spain. It knows our bottom lines. There will be an agreement only if it meets them, and if we believe that we can commend the agreement to the people of Gibraltar.

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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Spanish Foreign Minister Pique will meet in a few days at the Seville European Council, and in London on 26 June, when the details that the hon. Member for Romford asked for will be addressed. The next formal Brussels-process meeting will take place after that. We would rather have no deal than a bad deal. A good deal must advance the interests of Britain and Gibraltar. We will not sign up to anything that does not do that, and Gibraltar will have the final decision.

The Opposition do not care about British interests. They are not even interested in having a serious debate. Is that the case because Gibraltar is the only place left on earth where anyone is pleased to see the Leader of the Opposition? I offer a quote from the Daily Mail, which is not usually a source of support for the Government. It reported his recent visit to Gibraltar thus:

I welcome the current policy of the Opposition, and I hope that they will carry on with it, because saloon-bar nationalism—the frothing at the mouth about sovereignty and their obsession with Europe—is what lost the Tories the last election. I hope that they will not heed the words of a former Chairman of their party, who was rather good at winning elections. On 17 May, Chris Patten said of these negotiations about Gibraltar:

Of course, Chris Patten was a member of John Major's Cabinet. He continues:

Baroness Thatcher began this process in 1984. Every successive Conservative Administration continued it, and we are now trying to settle the matter. If we do not

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settle it now, it will not get settled for a long while. There is an historic opportunity and we have made a big investment of time and effort. If this does not work, we will turn to other matters, and Britain and Spain will be losers, but the biggest losers will be the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Swire : I wish to offer the Minister an opportunity to withdraw his facile remarks about the Conservative Opposition being anti-Spanish. It is possible to be pro-Spanish as well as pro-British and, by definition, pro-Gibraltarian.

Peter Hain : I am a Minister in this Government and I am pro-British, pro-Gibraltarian and pro-Spanish, which is why we are trying to resolve this matter. I have made it clear that the prejudices that have been expressed did not come from the Conservative Front Bench, but they were revealing about the real views that some of the party's Back Benchers hold about Spain.

Mr. Francois : The Minister intimated that the Government are attempting to bring the process to some kind of conclusion. Is it realistic to hope that we might have a statement in the House by the Foreign Secretary before we rise for the summer recess?

Peter Hain : I do not know. It depends on how long the discussions take.

The people who really care about Gibraltar's interests are not the Conservative party. The real patriots are not the Tories; they are those who recognise that this issue is damaging British interests, as well as those of Gibraltar. The real patriots are those who honestly try to do something about the matter, despite the difficulties, and who are determined to find a solution in the interests of the people whom we represent—our constituents, the people of Britain. The true Brits are those of us who understand that British interests are being damaged by the dispute, and who remain determined to ensure that that damage ends.

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