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Secret papers revealed under the 30-year rule show in detail the British position on Gibraltar and the Anglo-Spanish dispute.

GIBRALTAR: Statement by Sir B. Burrows at the North Atlantic Council on 29 March, 1968

I have been instructed by my Government to make a statement about Gibraltar, following the talks at official level which were held between the Spanish and British Governments in Madrid on 18 and 20 March. These talks were the eventual outcome of a proposal which H.M.G. made last September. Since the talks which ended in October, 1966 (when the Spaniards rejected our proposals for a reference of the legal issues in dispute to the I.C.J.) we had no direct talks with Spain except for abortive technical ones about the Spanish Prohibited Area for flying. We thought that it was high time to have direct talks again, even if the prospects of their producing any significant results were small. We had proposed that the talks should be held around the end of November last. The Spaniards suggested a postponement until 1968 and thereafter argued that the talks, insofar as they related to Gibraltar, should be on the basis of the Resolution which the U.N. General Assembly had meanwhile passed in December of last year. This Resolution was unacceptable to H.M.G. We voted against it as did some of our allies. And we obviously could not agree that talks should be held simply on the basis of it. Our position was that each side should be free to raise at the talks whatever points it wished. This argument about the basis of the talks was never resolved. But we cut it short by suggesting that it would be better to continue the discussion at the talks themselves rather than in correspondence. The Spaniards did not then object to the talks beginning on 18 March, the date we proposed. In preparing for the talks we were, of course, conscious of the fact that Spanish propaganda had devoted increasing attention during the last year or so to the British military base at Gibraltar, and to the important NATO facilities which are available and in use there. This aspect of their propaganda may well have been decisive in securing for them the support of the Soviet Union and all the East European countries in the voting on the General Assembly Resolution last December.

The talks in Madrid
The talks may have been of some use in removing misconceptions. But their value was severely limited by the Spanish attitude as it developed during them. At the first session they seemed ready to engage in an informal and confidential exchange of views. But at the second session they reverted to the line that the talks would serve no purpose as long as the British Delegation would not accept the Spanish view that any discussion of Gibraltar should be on the basis of the United Nations Resolution. On this note they brought the talks to an end. Her Majesty's Government regret that it was not possible to establish the confidence necessary for progress towards a settlement, or even for a reduction in tension and an improvement in the atmosphere. We made clear that gestures on the Spanish side would find a ready response, and we recalled the offers which we had previously made and which are still open. Apart from the offers to refer all the legal issues in dispute to the International Court of Justice, these include the proposals which we made in June, 1966. In addition to taking up a Spanish proposal for frontier restrictions to be removed in conjunction with the demolition of the British frontier fence, the British proposals made at that time envisaged the restoration of Spanish consular representation in Gibraltar; the municipalisation of Gibraltar's political institutions; co-operation over the suppression of smuggling; and the provision of facilities at Gibraltar for Spanish military aircraft and warships. But it was clear that the Spaniards had no more interest now in these proposals than when they were first made.

The Prospects
As to the future I must say that the prospects are not good. The Spaniards, predictably, gave a great deal of guidance to the press as soon as the talks were over (we had been ready to treat them as confidential) and have tried to place the blame for their lack of result on our refusal to continue discussion on the basis of the U.N. Resolution and our overriding interest in keeping Gibraltar as a military base. They will no doubt give the U.N. version of the talks on these lines in the near future. They showed in fact no interest in substantial discussion as distinct from the construction of a propaganda platform. On 22 March the Spanish Minister of Information made a statement in which he in effect said that in the face of my Government's stand on Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, the Spanish Government "had decided to apply progressively the clauses of the Treaty which guarantee Spain's defence against any possible attempt at expansion of the Gibraltar colonial situation." This suggests that the Spanish Government are planning further interference with land communications between Spain and Gibraltar, and a Reuters'report, which we cannot confirm, suggests that fresh restrictions may be imposed on 15 April. This may amount to a virtual closing of the frontier which has already for a long time been barred to traffic by vehicles. In this connection I should explain that my Government do not accept that the Treaty of Utrecht justifies a closure of the frontier by the Spanish Government. The fact is that during the 250 years since the conclusion of the Treaty and until recently, Spain has permitted communication and the exchange of merchandise between Spanish territory and Gibraltar. In our view Spain cannot now justifiably prevent communications which have been allowed and exercised over so long a time. In addition there are signs that the Spanish authorities plan measures to interfere with traditional anchorage practices in the Bay of Gibraltar. Generally it seems clear that the Spanish Government will continue their tactics of pressure on the Gibraltar community through restrictions and through campaigning at the U.N. The situation seems bound to become worse before it can become better.

The Spanish Prohibited Area
The background to this matter is given in a pamphlet entitled "Gibraltar Airport - The Facts," a copy of which has already been sent to Delegations. As the Council knows, this is the subject of a dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain which is now pending for the Council of the I.C.A.O. and I do not propose to go into it now.

The Isthmus
I do, however, want to make one point about the Isthmus. The Spaniards contend that the southern half of the Isthmus, i.e. the area known as the "British neutral ground" and on which the airport is built, was not ceded to Britain but has been illegally occupied by us. Our views are well-known. Although the Treaty of Utrecht is silent as to the exact location of the boundary British rights have been established by the exercise of jurisdiction over the area for a very long period.

Territorial Waters
Spain and the United Kingdom have never agreed on the delimitation of territorial waters in the Bay. The Spanish contention is that Gibraltar has no territorial waters. We have no doubt that it has and we remain willing for this and other legal issues to be adjudicated upon by the International Court of Justice. But since this issue has also been raised by the Spaniards in the I.C.A.O. proceedings I do not propose to go into details of the dispute here. I should, however, draw the attention of the Council to the fact that Spanish warships have recently begun to anchor in waters which we regard as our territorial waters. We have accordingly protested at the action of these Spanish warships. Our position was explained in our Note to the Spanish Government on 9 December, copies of which I am circulating. I would particularly draw attention to paragraphs 6, 7 and 8. I should add that there has so far been no interference with shipping calling at Gibraltar.

The Base and NATO facilities
I think I need not remind the Council that although Gibraltar is not, of course, what is sometimes loosely called "a NATO base" its facilities are of considerable importance to the Alliance and it is the Headquarters of COMGIBMED. The Spaniards have from time to time attempted to exert pressure on other members of NATO not to use the facilities of Gibraltar. It remains of importance both to the Alliance as a whole and to my Government that these efforts should be firmly resisted.

It should be clear from what I have said that we expect further pressure by the Spanish Government. Our position will remain firm on the twin bases of a stand which is well founded in law and our overriding moral commitment not to hand the Gibraltarians over against their will to the Spanish Government. We remain ready to grasp any opportunity to bring about a cooling off of the situation. But we shall preserve our rights and stand by the Gibraltarians. My Government hope that in the light of the facts which I have placed before you, the members of the Alliance will give us all appropriate support on the political issues at the U.N. and in their dealings with the Spanish Government.

United Kingdom Delegation to NATO March 29, 1968. (28.05.00)

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