In the last week Peter Caruana and Julio Montesino Ramos (a Spanish diplomat who attends the Trilateral Forum) have spoken in academic events in Algeciras. Peter Caruana has emphasized that Gibraltar has an undertaking that the UK will not attend bilateral talks with Spain under the Brussels Accord without the consent of Gibraltar. His take on this is that it leaves Spain only the Trilateral Forum within which to discuss Gibraltar issues. A huge problem results because this forum, we are told by the participants (so termed by Spain, in lieu of "parties"), is not about sovereignty it is about cooperation, whilst, as we all know, the problem is not one of cooperation, it is about sovereignty.
The UK's position on Gibraltar does not warrant that it should be doubted. Its commitment not to transfer Gibraltar's sovereignty to Spain is frequently repeated publicly and enshrined in the preamble to the 2006 and the earlier Constitutions. It will not betray it. The undertaking not to hold bilateral talks on sovereignty under Brussels seems to be a reflection of this commitment.
The other side of the equation is, that despite Gibraltar's reservations on the issue, both the UK (most recently in the Despatch to the 2006 Constitution) and Spain consider the Treaty of Utrecht to be extant and to be the foundation of British sovereignty of Gibraltar. If this is the position, and it is difficult to see how a treaty that is constantly given life and affirmed by its two signatories can be denied, then ultimately the issue of sovereignty is a bilateral one. What cannot be denied also is the substantial and undeniable recognition that the UK has given to the people of Gibraltar.
It is a recognition that Spain has been forced to accept and take into consideration in pursuing what it considers to be its unalienable claim to sovereignty of Gibraltar. Recent pronouncements by Ministros de Asuntos Exteriores have been conciliatory and attempt, with careful use of language, to take into account the existence of and views of Gibraltar. Hence, this is one of the factors that has eventually resulted in, what Spain describe as, the Trilateral "foro de dialogo".
So where does it leave the situation? Well, essentially, where the new Spanish Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores has said. It leaves everyone, for now, with the Trilateral Forum as the softening up process by which Spain hopes to show Gibraltar that a change in sovereignty is not so adverse to Gibraltar as is thought. A difficult if not impossible task but a path that Spain has to tread. When it has trodden that path, whether successfully or not, the question will remain, in short, what about sovereignty which is a bilateral issue? It is a claim that Spain has in the face of British Sovereignty vested by treaty in the UK.
If Spain wants to talk about sovereignty, would the UK seriously be able to resist, at least, talking to Spain? Perhaps the hint is in what Julio Montesino Ramos is reported as having said: "Issues of sovereignty should be discussed with the United Kingdom at a bilateral level in the so called Brussels process ... but it could have any name. There must be a bilateral negotiating process which is ,logically, seperated and independent from the forum". What happens if and when Spain insists? Could the Trilateral Forum survive such an eventuality? If not, what is Gibraltar doing there at all?