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Secret documents reveal UK clash over self-determination

The former British Ambassador to Madrid, the late Sir Richard Parsons, believed there was no “moral reason’” why the people of Gibraltar should have the right to determine their own future and argued that integration with the Spanish state was the only “long term solution”, according to an extraordinary despatch released to The National Archives in London.

The despatch prompted angry responses not just from British officials in Gibraltar but from Whitehall too, where one Foreign Office mandarin replied that the ambassador had failed to grasp Britain’s commitment to the doctrine of self-determination.

In no uncertain terms, the ambassador was told that the UK regarded Gibraltarians as “a people” with a clear moral and legal right to self-determination.

Sir Richard, who was Britain’s representative in Madrid between 1980 and 1984, died earlier this year aged 88.

His despatch, addressed to the Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in March 1984, was written in response to a paper on Gibraltar by then Governor, Admiral Sir David Williams.

Admiral Williams, who was Governor between 1982 and 1985, advised the Foreign Office in a detailed despatch: “We should not expect Gibraltar to become Spanish. She wishes to be Gibraltarian.”

He added that any concessions to Spain would be to put “real estate above people”.

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