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Bossano’s refusal on Brussels angered UK and Spain, secret papers reveal

The anger and irritation of the British and Spanish governments at Joe Bossano's refusal to take part in the Brussels process while Chief Minister is conveyed in previously confidential Cabinet minutes released last Friday.

The Cabinet papers, released to The National Archives in London, cover Margaret Thatcher’s final two years in Downing Street before her dramatic resignation in November 1990. 

At a meeting in March 1990, the Minister of State at the Foreign Commonwealth Office, William Waldegrave, told Cabinet colleagues that while he was in Madrid “…the Spanish Government had been angered by the continued refusal of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Mr Joe Bossano, to attend meetings in the Brussels process.”

Although the meeting with Spanish officials had gone “as well as could be expected”, Mr Waldegrave added that “…the Spanish Government clearly continued to find the overall attitude of the Gibraltar Government irritating, as did the British Government.”

Mr Bossano, who was elected Chief Minister in 1988, had made clear his opposition to any discussions over the future of Gibraltar between Spain and the United Kingdom.

However, despite a difference in opinion over the Brussels process, Mr Bossano had been praised by the Cabinet for his “helpful and sensible” reaction to the British Government’s decision to reduce the presence of the garrison in Gibraltar.

At a full Cabinet meeting in February 1989 the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe – whose resignation the following year would prove so damaging to Mrs Thatcher – told colleagues that Britain intended to withdraw an infantry battalion from the Rock over a two year period.

“Mr Joseph Bossano, who had been given advance notice of the decision, had made some helpful and sensible remarks,” said Mr Howe.

“Opinion in Gibraltar had been reassured when it was understood that the decision also entailed the release to Gibraltar of a considerable amount of land, mostly without charge.”

“The importance of this could be seen against the background that up to now the Ministry of Defence had occupied about 50 per cent of the available land in Gibraltar, while contributing some 15 to 20 per cent of Gibraltar’s gross national product.”

Mr Howe pointed to the strength of Gibraltar’s economy, adding: “Mr Bossano was energetically pursuing ambitious plans for economic development.”

The papers also show that the British Government maintained a firm line on sovereignty during its discussions with Spain.

“The Spanish side had raised sovereignty in a ritual fashion and [the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary] had made it clear again that sovereignty could not change against the wishes of the Gibraltarians,” the Cabinet minutes note.

Other papers released last week reveal Mrs Thatcher reacted angrily to the suggestion of a meeting between the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, and his Argentine counterpart, Dr Dante Caputo, in autumn of 1988. 

Six years after the end of the Falklands War, and with emotions still raw, Mrs Thatcher made her feelings known in scribbled comments in the margin: “I utterly recoil from this; and so I think would the relatives of all those who lost their lives in the Falklands. Argentina has not announced a cessation of hostilities.”

However, pressure from the United States eventually led to a meeting between Sir Crispin Tickell, the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations and Dr Caputo later that year.



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