UK MP backs Gibraltar joint sovereignty

Spain and the UK should share sovereignty of the disputed territory of Gibraltar, a former British Europe minister said on Tuesday.

UK MP backs Gibraltar joint sovereignty
In a 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians voted overwhelming in favour of staying with the UK. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Peter Hain, Minister for Europe and later Secretary of State for Wales in Tony Blair's government, made the comments on the UK's BBC Radio 4 station.

Hain headed up talks on the Gibraltar issue while Tony Blair was in power.

During these discussions, the possibility of shared sovereignty for the territory was on the table, the MP 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 recognized Spain's historic claim at the root of this," he said.

Hain added the UK should enter into new talks with Spain on the matter.

Check out The Local's List of ten things you didn't know about Gibraltar.

"I think we need to revisit those whole negotiations."

He said the joint sovereignty would have meant open borders, aviation access and telephone access.

But UK papers said the idea was unlikely to be popular in Spain.

In a 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians voted overwhelming in favour of staying with the UK with only 1.03 percent of local opting for becoming part of Spain.

Relations between the territory popularly known as The Rock in English and El Peñon in Spain have been particularly fraught in recent times.

Last week, Gibraltarian authorities tipped 70 blocks of cement into shared waters allegedly in a bid to stop incursions by Spanish trawlers.

This in turn led to a roadblock by Spanish authorities operating at the border between both countries, which left hundreds of drivers stranded in unbearable heat for up to six hours.

The British government, which had already voiced "serious concerns" about the dispute, has vowed to carry out its "constitutional commitments" to the people of Gibraltar after two of the most turbulent weeks in Spain-Gibraltar relations in recent times. 

On Monday, Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said Madrid was behaving like North Korea.

The UK Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, has stated he has "serious concerns" in the wake of recent events.

Gibraltar was ceded to the British Crown in 1713 but waters surrounding the territory is still disputed.

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.