London, Jan.24 (ANI): Former British prime minister Tony Blair wanted to hand Gibraltar over to Spain to curry favour with the European Union, a former minister of his cabinet has revealed.
Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Peter Hain says in his memoirs that Blair was "contemptuous" toward the desire of Gibraltar residents to remain under the British flag and told how close Britain came to losing the rocky territory to the Spanish in 2002.
Hain tells in his memoirs, published on Monday, how he wanted to work to "do something about Gibraltar", which has been a British overseas territory since 1713, as soon as he became Europe minister in June 2001.
This was based on a "gut instinct that it as ridiculous in the modern age for Britain to have a colony on the tip of Spain nearly 2,000 miles away".
His "African roots" made it easy for him to understand the strong feelings aroused by "a little bit of England trying eccentrically to cling on to Spain".
Hain developed a plan that would see Britain and Spain share the island's sovereignty, along with "maximum self-government for Gibraltarians", with economic assistance from the European Union.
The plan was "enthusiastically" backed by Blair during a flight back from a meeting with Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in February 2002.
Blair told him on the flight: "It is really important to get a better future for Gibraltar, to secure a better relationship with Spain and to remove it as an obstacle to our relations within Europe."
In the book, "Outside In", Hain admits that he became a "hate figure on the Rock, the target of angry posters and speeches, taking me back over 30 years to the time when I was stopping apartheid rugby and cricket tours".
He accuses residents of Gibraltar of having a "schizophrenic" attitude to their status, wanting a better relationship and new opportunities with Spain but fiercely opposing co-sovereignty.
He says: "They remained rigidly wedded to their idea of Britishness in a totally artificial sense."
Hain says that a deal was done with the Spanish Government on 18 April 2002 to allow the British to keep control of a naval base on the island, while the people of Gibraltar could hold a binding referendum.
However the deal was short-lived and hours after agreeing it, the Madrid government had vetoed it. (ANI)
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