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Call for Gibraltar sovereignty deal

The UK should attempt to reopen negotiations with Spain aimed at sharing Gibraltar's sovereignty, a former minister has suggested amid continued tensions over the Rock.

Peter Hain, who led negotiations aimed at resolving the situation while a minister in Tony Blair's government, said a sovereignty deal would end the current difficulties being faced by Gibraltarians in the dispute with their Spanish neighbours.

The Government has insisted there will be no compromise over the sovereignty of Gibraltar and Foreign Secretary William Hague has vowed to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with its citizens in response to heightened pressure and increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Madrid.

A deal on ending the dispute, which dates back to the Treaty of Utrecht 300 years ago that ceded the territory to Britain, appeared close in 2002 after negotiations between then Europe minister Mr Hain and his Spanish counterpart.

Mr Hain told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the Spanish got "cold feet" and backed off. He said: "There was a historic opportunity to have joint sovereignty which would have protected Gibraltarians' way of life - they could remain British citizens, but it also recognised Spain's historic claim at the root of this. I think we need to revisit those whole negotiations."

The Labour former minister added that a deal would have "transformed life for Gibraltarians" as "there would have been an open border, they would have had aeroplane access, telephone access, all the things which are bedevilling them at the moment".

Mr Hain's comments are likely to be met with hostility in Gibraltar, where citizens overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a shared sovereignty deal in a referendum in 2002.

Relations between Gibraltar and Spain have deteriorated in recent months in a row over fishing grounds, with Spanish ministers raising the prospect of imposing a 50 euro (£43) levy on vehicles crossing the border and the possibility of closing airspace.

Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, accused Madrid of "sabre-rattling" and behaving like North Korea. The Foreign Secretary offered his support to Mr Picardo and emphasised that the UK "stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar" at a time of "increasing Spanish pressure and rhetoric".

UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage called for Britain to strengthen ties with Gibraltar. He said: "What I want to see is us saying to Gibraltar 'Right, let's integrate you more deeply in the UK, let's give you your own Member of Parliament in Westminster' and let's send Spain the message 'We are not going to negotiate'."


From Belfast Telegraph