5 November 1998
The Hon P R Caruana QC
As you know, the Prime Minister discussed problems arising from Spanish fishing in British waters around Gibraltar with Sr Aznar on 2 November. I thought it would be helpful if I told you what was said, and set out the overall position of the British Government on the issue.
Between 1391 and 1997, Spanish fishermen entered Gibraltar waters and fished in moderate numbers rather than large groups. They avoided provocative and publicly sensitive locations, and kept away from the harbour and out of Admiralty waters. They moved an when asked to do so by the Royal Gibraltar police. These were the factors which influenced the RGP enforcement attitude during that period.
When Robin Cook met Sr Matutes in Luxembourg on 5 October, they agreed that we should try to revert to the situation that had prevailed between 1991-1997. The central point for us in this context was that the authority of Gibraltar's law enforcement agencies should be respected.
We indicated to the Spanish that if that occurred, the RGP in turn would return to the enforcement pattern and attitude of the 1991-1997 period, as a matter of their normal enforcement judgement. This was the basis of discussion between British and Spanish officials aimed at reaching an understanding or the previous situation. There has, of course, been no question of negotiating or reaching an agreement to break or to change the laws of Gibraltar.
In addition, we have made it clear that Spanish military or law enforcement vessels entering British waters, unless entering a right of innocent passage in accordance with international law or when invited to co-operate with the Gibraltar authorities, are infringing British sovereignty and will be asked to leave. HMG will continue to safeguard the sovereignty, control and jurisdiction of British waters.
When the two Prime Minister met on 2 November, they discussed a wide range of bilateral international issues. on fishing around Gibraltar, they confirmed that both sides wanted to work to ensure a return to the situation that had prevailed from 1991- 1997 Both sides would exercise restraint. Early reports referring to a discussion of proposals on fishing are not Correct.
I am aware of reports circulating in the local media that suggest that Spanish fishing laws. somehow apply in British waters around Gibraltar. Let me state unambiguously that we do not and cannot accept any suggestion that Spanish fishing laws apply in these waters. Our position is absolutely clear: Gibraltar's laws apply throughout British waters around Gibraltar. And, as I said earlier, HMG has not negotiated or reached an agreement to break or change the laws of Gibraltar.
I hope that this clarifies the position. It is evident that a common objective is to reduce tension over this issue. I recognise that all sides, including Gibraltar, have made efforts to keep the situation under control and I welcome this. I therefore believe that it should be possible to return to the situation which existed between 1991 and 1997.