William Hague talks about Gibraltar

William Hague talks about Gibraltar

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William Hague talks about Gibraltar

Full text of the speech delivered by William Hague, First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs at HM the Government of Gibraltar reception for the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on the 7th. October 2012.

Welcome everyone to one of the great traditions of Conservative party conference, the Gibraltar Reception, and a particularly warm welcome to our host at this reception and our guest at this Conference, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Mr Fabian Picardo.

Gibraltar became legally British with the Treaty of Utrecht 299 years ago under, as we all remember, a Tory Government, and just as we celebrate that today, I hope and expect that good times will be had at Gibraltar receptions at Conservative Party Conferences for another 299 years.

Just as it has been a special year here with the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics so it has been a special year in Gibraltar, with many great reminders of the relationship between Gibraltar and the British Crown:

In April the Royal Gibraltar Regiment performed Guard Duties at Buckingham Palace and fired a 62-gun Royal Salute at the Tower of London on Her Majesty The Queen’s 86th birthday.

The Regiment is an operational part of the British Army and has deployed personnel to every conflict or theatre of operations since taking on its infantry role in 1991. This year members of the Regiment have been serving in Afghanistan.

In June Their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex received the warmest of welcomes when they visited Gibraltar on behalf of The Queen.

And it was a great pleasure to have the Chief Minister representing Gibraltar at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London, and at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games.

As we Conservatives know better than anyone, history and tradition are important, but so too is the ability to adapt successfully to change. Britain’s military presence is now smaller and no longer dominates Gibraltar’s economy. Over the last thirty years Gibraltar has transformed itself. It has now a thriving commercial port, financial centre and service economy with a GDP of one billion pounds a year. Each year Gibraltar is a gateway to the Spanish Costas for thousands of British tourists and residents. Last year Gibraltar’s cruise ship terminal welcomed over 325,000 passengers. This success is a credit to the enterprise of Gibraltarians and successive Governments of Gibraltar.

History proves beyond doubt the wish of the Gibraltarian people to be and to remain British, and when the last British Government unwisely did doubt it in 2002 the people of Gibraltar told them what they thought about in a referendum in the clearest possible terms. It is that wish that guides all this Government’s actions and policy on Gibraltar-related issues, including the fundamental issue of sovereignty.

I will therefore re-state our commitment to the people of Gibraltar on sovereignty: we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes. Furthermore, we will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.

That is a commitment we uphold in all our exchanges with the Spanish Government on issues relating to Gibraltar. The UK enjoys deep and fruitful relations with Spain, our military and political allies. But any talk of change to Gibraltar’s sovereignty without the consent of its people is and will forever be off the table.

And British sovereignty applies equally to British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. I know people in Gibraltar are worried that incursions by Spanish State vessels in the waters around Gibraltar might threaten that sovereignty but we are clear that Britain has sovereignty over the waters under international law and the presence of the Royal Navy in Gibraltar and the waters around Gibraltar will continue to ensure that this position is maintained.

Under the 2006 constitution, the UK has developed a new relationship with Gibraltar. Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar has the highest level of constitutional responsibility for its own affairs consistent with the UK’s overarching responsibilities, as for all other British Overseas Territories.

While the fact of British sovereignty is undeniable, Gibraltar also, of course, has strong economic and social links with Spain, starting with the Campo across the border. Both communities have a strong interest in the success of this relationship. And as a responsible sovereign, Britain must ensure that tensions with Spain do not cause damage to Gibraltar.

We all have much to gain from practical cooperation between the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Spain. There is, for example, impressive cooperation already between the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Guardia Civil when it comes to serious crimes, such as drug smuggling. We should be open to more.

Dialogue and cooperation is in all our interests and something I want to see that go forward with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain.

These are difficult, complex and often emotive issues. Dealing with them effectively will require a strong partnership between the Governments of Britain and Gibraltar. I want us to work together as effectively and openly as possible. I very much look forward to working with the Chief Minister and his Government to overcome the challenges and take the great opportunities ahead.

I want to leave you with one thing that may be news to some of you here. A few months ago I decided that the Foreign Office would fly the flag of each overseas territory on its national day so this year, for the first time ever, the flag of Gibraltar flew over the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on its National Day, a sign of how the ties between the peoples of Britain and Gibraltar are unbreakable.

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