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Aznar wooed Major against backdrop of Gibraltar and Catalonia, secret files show

Jose Maria Aznar’s Partido Popular (PP) made a concerted effort to woo UK Conservative Prime Minister John Major during the early days of his premiership, according to newly declassified files that set out how British officials considered using the approach as an opportunity to impress on the PP the negative effects of its “strident” position on Gibraltar.

Mr Aznar was “clearly dying to be photographed” with Mr Major and enlisted the help of Michael Portillo, a UK cabinet minister with close ties to Spain, after taking over the leadership of the PP in 1990 when the party was in opposition, according to files released to The National Archives in London today.

But with thorny subjects including Gibraltar and Catalonia lurking in the background, relations between the two centre-right parties appear to have got off to rocky start.

Mr Portillo told Mr Major in the summer of 1992 that his contacts within the PP were concerned by the Prime Minister’s visit to Barcelona for the Olympic Games and his planned meeting with Catalan president Jordi Pujol.

“Pujol has it seems taken an increasingly separatist line on Catalonia and is supposed to have received support from Scottish Nationalists,” Mr Portillo wrote.

“Your lunch with Pujol therefore pains the [Spanish] conservatives. They think Pujol will make political capital out of it.”

Meanwhile, Mr Portillo and Spanish conservatives were concerned about Mr Major holidaying in Spain and not meeting Mr Aznar, who would “appear snubbed”.

“You will be photographed with Pujol and [Felipe] González [then Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister] but not our man,” Mr Portillo warned.

The British Ambassador in Madrid, Sir Robin Fearn, agreed there could be “…some advantage in a meeting from a Gibraltar point of view.”


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