Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Secretary of State, may I welcome you again to this meeting of the Committee and welcome with you for the first part of our deliberations, Mr James Bevan, who is the Director of the South East Europe and Gibraltar and then at 4.45 you will be joined by Mr Kim Darroch, the Director of the European Union. That division is because we have decided the ground rules in advance so that the first half an hour or so of today's meeting will be on Gibraltar and the rest in relation to the Seville European Union Council. Secretary of State, first, if I may, in respect of Gibraltar. There seems to be now an increasing consensus among observers that the talks under the Brussels process have run into the sands and will increasingly do so, do you agree?

  (Mr Straw) No. The talks have not reached an end of the current stage. As you may know, and as Mr Hain announced in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, I am due to have a further discussion, informal discussion, in London with Mr Pique, the Spanish Foreign Minister, on Wednesday next. I should say, also, that the undertakings which I gave you, Chairman, in a letter earlier this year, about making a statement to the House about the House being the first to know and if there is any declaration there being a proper time between the publication of that declaration and the time allowed for this Committee to consider it before there is a debate in the House of course stands.

  2. Is it anticipated that the Prime Minister will be taking the opportunity of Seville to be entering into bilateral discussions with Senior Aznar?
  (Mr Straw) The subject did not come up—I was not present at the discussions with Mr Aznar on Monday, not least because I was in Luxembourg—it did not, according to the record I have seen, come up on that occasion. I cannot be certain. It will almost certainly be discussed, but fairly briefly, between myself and Mr Pique in the margins of Seville. It is worth bearing in mind that particularly for the country which has the Presidency their whole focus has to be on the subject of the Presidency. That is just the way it is. Let me say, Senior Pique and I looked at the possibility of whether there was going to be any time either before, during or after the Seville Council, but at Seville, where we could hold a serious discussion as an informal adjunct to the Brussels process but we decided it simply was not going to be possible.

  3. If when you meet Senior Pique, your opposite number, next week it is clear that there is unlikely to be any movement, will you then fold your tent and say "It was a brave but some would say misguided attempt"?
  (Mr Straw) No. Well, you cannot anticipate the outcome of negotiations until the negotiations have been completed. If you could anticipate the outcome of negotiations before they were completed there would be no need to have negotiations and that is a truth about negotiations which is timeless. You do not know until you get into the end period of negotiations what is going to happen and that is the position at the moment.

  4. The assumption is that there are three major roadblocks currently. One, the question of joint sovereignty or single sovereignty; two, the question of the military facilities on the Rock, both the air and naval; and three the question of self-determination.
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

  5. Turning to the question of sovereignty, is there any serious expectation that the Government of Spain, under Mr Aznar, will be prepared to see any arrangement as other than a staging post on the way to full sovereignty for Spain?
  (Mr Straw) We have always ruled out what you described as single sovereignty which would be a transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to Spain, full stop. We have made that clear all the way along, that has never been in negotiations.

  6. We have ruled it out. Is there any question at all that the Spanish Government—
  (Mr Straw) You are asking me, Mr Anderson, to speak for the Spanish Government in what at the moment is a bilateral negotiation, I had hoped would be a trilateral negotiation with the Government of Gibraltar also present alongside me under the so-called two flag three voices formula but that was not possible. I am afraid that is a question you are going to have to ask the Government of Spain, not the Government of the United Kingdom.

  7. I ask you for this reason, that you and the Prime Minister have been involved in a series of discussions with your opposite numbers so you must have a pretty serious clear view now on whether there is any give at all. Is it conceivable that the Spanish Government would accept an arrangement which was other than for them a staging post on the way to full sovereignty?
  (Mr Straw) The purpose of these negotiations within the Brussels process, as it has been ever since 1984, since they were announced by the Thatcher Government, is to try and resolve by negotiation the dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain about the status of Gibraltar. What is the basis of that dispute, aside from, as it were, day to day matters, behind it lies a claim by the Government of Spain which they claim—we dispute this—is backed by United Nations resolutions for sovereignty over the Rock. It is for single sovereignty. That is the purpose of the negotiations, to try and resolve this claim and this dispute. I am not going, with great respect to you, to anticipate the outcome of the negotiations because the simple truth is I do not know the outcome of the negotiations, if I did I would tell you.

  8. There will come a time when you will have a clear idea of whether or not there is any serious prospect of making progress.
  (Mr Straw) Of course.

  9. Are we coming near to that?
  (Mr Straw) What we are coming near to is the timescale which I initially set, it is not set in stone, let me say, but it is on the record that I said we hoped to bring this stage of the negotiations to a conclusion by the summer. I should make clear, also, as again colleagues here will remember, that in the particular circumstances in which the Government of Gibraltar felt unable to take part directly in these negotiations (I feel that we made it entirely safe for them to do so, they felt that it was not) in those circumstances this simply would, in any event, be the first stage of a negotiation with a joint declaration which will then be the subject of further and more detailed negotiations outside the Brussels process on a tripartite basis to provide further detail, further flesh on the basic structure that we had created in that joint declaration and then further down the track once clear detail was apparent its admission to a referendum.

  10. The target is to reach a joint declaration by the summer. Is it on the basis of what you have seen so far realistic that in July—which presumably is called the summer pretty widely—you will have an agreement by then or will know whether or not an agreement will be reached?
  (Mr Straw) I am sorry to repeat myself. The discussions continue. There will be a further discussion next week again. If I knew the outcome of negotiations before they took place, as I said, there would not be a need for negotiations. The history of negotiations, not only inter-governmental but all sorts of negotiations, which many colleagues here will have been involved in, is that you do not know whether negotiations are going to conclude satisfactorily until you reach the end game.


  11. Welcome, Foreign Secretary. I was just interested by a point you made a few moments ago about the country which has the Presidency of the European Union only being able to focus on Presidency issues. I was wondering if you could comment whether you think Spain will be able to devote more time and eventually conclude talks at the end of the Presidency?
  (Mr Straw) Sorry. They have been able to devote a great deal of time generally to the issue of Gibraltar. I am just saying that in terms of the meeting of the European Council and functional councils, because it is the Spanish ministers who are in the Chair and Spanish officials who are supporting them, it is not possible within those meetings for there then to be separate bilaterals. Whereas if there was a negotiation between the United Kingdom and one of another 13 countries who do not have the Presidency, it would be very easy for us to extract ourselves while, say, Luxembourg and Brussels, have a bilateral for a couple of hours while one of our officials is, as it were, minding the shop in the room but that is not possible for the country which has the Presidency. That is a very discrete point.

  12. That is helpful. Can I just return you to the issue of sovereignty and put the question to you the other way round, which I hope is directly your responsibility and that is this. Is there any prospect of you, as the Foreign Secretary, being able to sign up to an agreement on joint sovereignty in which Spain does not give up its own claim to full sovereignty? Can you sign up to that?
  (Mr Straw) If full sovereignty remained in dispute it would obviously be a logical impossibility to sign up to an agreement on joint sovereignty at the same time. I do not know what word would exist to accommodate those two positions. It is well known that joint sovereignty is one of the issues under discussion. It has always been, as it were, there ever since the previous Conservative Government in 1984 agreed that sovereignty should be one of the matters under discussion. It is the circumstances in which there could be an accord around joint sovereignty and so on which is the matter under discussion at the moment.

  13. I do not fully follow that.
  (Mr Straw) I thought it was pretty clear.

  14. I guess that was intended.
  (Mr Straw) No, no, no.

  15. Can I move you on.
  (Mr Straw) I remember, Mr Pope, that you are one of my voters, so you are directly one of my employers so I have an even higher imperative on making things clear to you than to anybody else.

  Mr Pope: God help the others.

  Chairman: Try again, Mr Pope.

Mr Pope

  16. I will move on to the issue of the military base. You say that joint sovereignty is something which has been under discussion and obviously I think we knew that. Is the joint sovereignty of the base an option and is that a real sticking point for the UK Government?
  (Mr Straw) If there were joint sovereignty it would obviously apply to the whole territory of Gibraltar.

  17. It would not necessarily, would it?
  (Mr Straw) If you are asking me would this become a British/Spanish base, the answer to that is no and that is not in prospect. Part of the aim of the negotiations is to ensure that it remains a British base.

  18. So it would effectively be excluded in pretty much the same way as our bases are in Cyprus?
  (Mr Straw) This then gets us into a rather rarefied discussion about the nature of sovereignty. It does not remotely follow that because there is sovereignty by a nation, or nations, over a territory that one or other of those nations then has complete and exclusive control over land and activities in part of that territory. That never has happened and never will.

Sir John Stanley

  19. Foreign Secretary, I have the transcript of the part of the Today programme of 20 May 2002 which reads as follows: "James Naughtie: If you got what you wanted—a deal on sovereignty with Spain in the negotiations, and you put it to the people of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar said "No", would the deal that we are talking about now then be off the table?"
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

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