BRITAIN'S European Affairs Minister Denis MacShane said a negotiated settlement with Spain over Gibraltar is years away and London will not agree on a deal against the wishes of the people of its colony. In an interview published in El Pais newspaper he was quoted as saying: “I doubt that at the present time we can seriously expect that the Gibraltar question can be returned to the negotiating table in the hope of achieving positive results.” MacShane's Spanish counterpart Ramon de Miguel balked at the comments, saying they were “unusual” and “inopportune” and that they did not reflect the position of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Last week de Miguel and MacShane met in Madrid but diplomatic sources said the Gibraltar issue was not discussed. “There is a breaking-off here, a desire for a break-off that seems very strange,” state news agency EFE quoted de Miguel as saying. “We know there are difficulties but neither the British government nor the Spanish government has ever questioned the spirit of negotiation to find a solution to the Gibraltar problem,” he said. Britain and Spain agreed last year to share sovereignty over the tiny rocky outcrop at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. Talks were later stalled, with a strategic British military base proving a sticking point, and in a November referendum, which Spain called illegal, Gibraltarians overwhelmingly voted to stay British. Asked if Britain's position that the base should stay 100 percent British was “immovable”, MacShane said “yes”. MacShane also said the two European Union countries had more important issues to deal with than Gibraltar. “I very much doubt that the people of Gibraltar are going to approve an important change of their statute before a long period of calm and friendly relations with Spain. I don't think that will happen before my successor arrives, or even several successors,” MacShane said.

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