‘We don’t want Gibraltar back’: King in 1983

King Juan Carlos told the UK he "didn't really want" The Rock back as it would prompt Morocco to claim Ceuta and Melilla as theirs, new documents released by the UK Government on Friday show.

'We don't want Gibraltar back': King in 1983
The Spanish monarch made the admission in a confidential meeting with Sir Richard Parsons, the British Ambassador in Spain at the time. Photo: Pascal George/AFP

The Spanish monarch made the admission in a confidential meeting with Sir Richard Parsons, the British Ambassador in Spain at the time.

Details of the talks were released by the UK’s National Archives on Friday along with many other government documents from thirty years ago.

"The King emphasized, as he had done with me before, that that requirement was to take some step over Gibraltar which would keep public opinion quiet for the time being," the UK’s Express quoted Parsons as saying.

"It should be clearly understood in private by both governments that in fact Spain did not really seek an early solution to the sovereignty problem. 

"If she recovered Gibraltar, King Hassan of Morocco would immediately activate his claim to Ceuta and Melilla."

Spain has held both north African cities since 15th and 17th centuries after a series of struggles with other competing countries, chiefly Portugal.

"The two foreign ministers should reach a private understanding between each other, differentiating between their actual aim and the methods used to propitiate public opinion on both sides."

According to the document in the National Archives, the King made the comments on July 21st 1983 at a time when the border between Spain and the tiny British held territory was still closed.

The UK government had already threatened to block Spain’s application to join the European Economic Community if it didn't lift border restrictions on Gibraltar put in place by General Franco in 1969.

Another meeting between Parsons and the UK’s Foreign Secretary at the time, Geoffrey Howe, shows how post-dictatorship Spain was willing to pay heed to Britain's diplomatic requirements:

"Morán (Spain’s Foreign Minister) said, as did the King yesterday, that he was more than ever convinced that there should be early confidential talks between you and him," Howe told Parsons.

"It is perhaps no bad thing that Spanish public opinion, as well as the Spanish government, have begun to understand that the principal aim of Spanish foreign policy, entry into the community, could be shipwrecked on the Rock of Gibraltar."

When Morán and Howe met on September 6th 1983, Ambassador Parsons wrote that both men "gave a frank exposition of their views on Gibraltar."

"Morán said that Spain's ultimate objective must be the recovery in due course of the territory of Gibraltar.

"He understood Britain's position and her commitment to the Gibraltarians," Parsons added.

“The Spanish Government wanted good relations with Britain."

Diplomatic talks and the opening of the border with Gibraltar in 1985 paved the way for Spain joining the EEC the following year.

The release of the confidential documents follows six months of heightened tensions between Spain and the tiny British Overseas Territory which began when Gibraltar placed concrete blocks off its shore in July.

Spain claimed the move would prevent their fishing fleet from accessing traditional fishing grounds, and retaliated with thorough custom checks at the Spain-Gibraltar border.

This in turn led to queues and a return to diplomatic wrangling between Spain, UK and Gibraltar.

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‘Alone and bored’: A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

A year after Spain's former King Juan Carlos went into self-imposed exile in the face of mounting questions over his finances, he remains under a cloud of suspicion that complicates his return home.

'Alone and bored': A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain's ex-king
Juan Carlos I's close ties with Gulf leaders have allowed him to live in opulent exile in Abu Dhabi for a year. Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

He announced on August 3, 2020 he was moving abroad to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI’s reign and sullying the monarchy.

But his choice of new home — the United Arab Emirates, where some of his business affairs triggered the scandals that tainted his reputation in the first place — only raised Spaniards’ eyebrows further.

Juan Carlos has told his son that he would like to return to Spain “but he won’t come back without the approval” of the royal household, said Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe.

And the position of the royals is that “until his legal problems end, he should not return”, Apezarena told AFP.

The 83-year-old former king is the target of three separate investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are looking into suspicions he received kickbacks for facilitating the deal.

The suspicions centre on $100 million (€85 million) that Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.

The other two investigations concern the alleged existence of a trust fund in Jersey linked to Juan Carlos and the undeclared use of credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name, a possible money-laundering offence.

‘Very bored’

Spanish monarchs have immunity during their reign but Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 following a series of health problems and embarrassing revelations about his personal life, leaving himself vulnerable to prosecution.

While he has not been charged with any crime, the probes have tainted his reputation as a leader of Spain’s democratic transition following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Outside of the Royal Palace in central Madrid, opinions were divided.

“He is being judged without any evidence, he should be able to come home if that’s what he wants,” said Pura Fernandez, 46, a bank worker.

But delivery rider Angel Galan, 27, was less sympathetic.

“He may have done some great things for Spain but if he committed irregularities I am not sad that he is gone,” he said.

While in exile, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts with Spanish authorities for a total of more than €5 million.

But he has otherwise kept a low profile at the villa on the island of Nurai off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he now lives.

“He is alone and very bored,” said Apezarena.


‘Not normal’

When reports emerged in February that Juan Carlos was in poor heath, the former monarch told online Spanish daily OKDiario he was “well, exercising two hours daily” in his only comments to the media since moving abroad.

Abel Hernández, a journalist and expert on the monarchy, said he believes Juan Carlos will return to Spain by the end of the year.

“He has not been charged with anything and has regularised his situation with the tax office. It does not seem normal that he remains outside of the country,” Hernández told AFP.

The scandals swirling around Juan Carlos have provided ammunition for those wanting to abolish the monarchy.

The far-left party Podemos, which is the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, has called for a parliamentary investigation into Juan Carlos’s wealth.

Felipe, meanwhile, has sought to distance himself from his father.

Last year the king renounced his inheritance from Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Polls show support for the monarchy has inched up since Juan Carlos moved abroad although a survey published Sunday in conservative daily La Razon found 42.9 percent of Spaniards feel Juan Carlos’s legal woes were hurting Felipe’s reign.