Disputed status of Gibraltar

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25,000 Gibraltarians demonstrate against joint sovereignty proposals on 18 March 2002

Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, is the subject of a irredentist territorial claim by Spain. It was captured in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). The Spanish Crown formally ceded the territory in perpetuity to the British Crown in 1713, under Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht. Spain later attempted to recapture the territory during the thirteenth siege (1727) and the Great siege (1779–1783). British sovereignty over Gibraltar was confirmed in later treaties signed in Seville (1729) and the Treaty of Paris (1783). Reclamation of the territory became government policy under the dictator General Franco and continues to be official Spanish policy.

The Gibraltarians themselves reject any such claim and no political party or pressure group in Gibraltar supports union with Spain. In a referendum in 2002 the people of Gibraltar soundly rejected a joint sovereignty proposal on which Spain and the United Kingdom were said to have reached "broad agreement".[1][2] The British Government has stated that it would "never ... enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people".[3]

In 2000, a political declaration of unity was signed by all living present and past members of the Gibraltar Parliament. "In essence the declaration stated that the people of Gibraltar will never compromise, give up or trade their sovereignty or their right to self-determination; that Gibraltar wants good, neighbourly, European relations with Spain; and that Gibraltar belongs to the people of Gibraltar and is neither Spain's to claim or Britain's to give away."[4]

The territorial claim was formally reasserted by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in the 1960s and has been continued by successive Spanish governments. They have insisted that the Gibraltar dispute is a purely bilateral matter between the United Kingdom and Spain. This principle appears to have been reflected in the United Nations resolutions on the decolonisation of Gibraltar in the 1960s, which focused on the "interests" and not the "wishes" of the Gibraltarians. Speaking to the UN C24 in 2006, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, stated that "It is well known and documented and accepted by all that, since 1988, Gibraltar has rejected the bilateral Brussels Process, and will never be content with it."[5] Gibraltarians argue that one cannot claim to be acting in the "interests" of a population, while at the same time ignoring its wishes and democratic rights.

In 2002, an agreement in principle on joint sovereignty over Gibraltar between the governments of the United Kingdom and Spain was announced. There was a robust campaign against these proposals by the Government of Gibraltar and individuals, culminating in their decisive rejection in a referendum. The British Government now refuses to discuss sovereignty without the consent of the Gibraltarians.[6]

With the 2004 election of a moderate left-wing government in Spain, a new Spanish position was adopted and, in December 2005, the governments of the UK, Spain and Gibraltar agreed to set up "a new, trilateral process of dialogue outside the Brussels Process" with equal participation by the three parties, any decisions or agreements to be agreed by all three.[4] This was ratified by the 2006 Cordoba Agreement. After meetings in Malaga (Spain), Faro (Portugal), and Mallorca (Spain), the Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos went to Gibraltar in July 2009 to discuss a range of mutual issues. This was the first official Spanish visit since Gibraltar was ceded. The issue of sovereignty was deliberately not discussed.[7]

Capture of Gibraltar and the Treaty of Utrecht

Statue of Admiral Sir George Rooke at Waterport Avenue in Gibraltar

Gibraltar was captured in 1704 by a force led by Admiral Sir George Rooke representing the Grand Alliance on behalf of the Archduke Charles, pretender to the Spanish Throne. After the battle, almost all the original inhabitants decided to leave to the surrounding areas of Campo de Gibraltar.[8] Spanish attempts to regain the territory in the Twelfth Siege of Gibraltar failed, and it was eventually ceded to the Kingdom of Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht as part of the settlement of the War of the Spanish Succession. In that treaty, Spain ceded to Great Britain "the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging ... for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever."

Should the British Crown ever wish to relinquish Gibraltar, a reversion clause holds that the territory would first be offered to Spain, "And in case it shall hereafter seem meet to the Crown of Great Britain to grant, sell or by any means to alienate therefrom the propriety of the said town of Gibraltar, it is hereby agreed and concluded that the preference of having the sale shall always be given to the Crown of Spain before any others."

Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates "that the above-named propriety be yielded to Great Britain without any territorial jurisdiction,[9] and without any open communication by land with the country round about" (although there is dispute over whether this disclaims territorial jurisdiction over Gibraltar, or over the "country round about"[10]) and that no overland trade between Gibraltar and Spain is to take place, except for emergency provisions in the case that Gibraltar is unable to be resupplied by sea. The British Government and the Government of Gibraltar today argue that the membership of both Gibraltar and Spain in the European Union (EU) — Gibraltar was included as a Special member state territory when the United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973; Spain joined the EU in 1986 — supersedes such restrictions as the EU is committed to free movement of goods and services.

Differing positions

The British[4] and Gibraltarian governments assert that Gibraltar has been effectively decolonised.[11][12][13][14] On the other hand, the Special Committee on Decolonization maintains Gibraltar on its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.[15] Spain opposes any attempt to remove it from this list[16] and Spanish commentators still describe Gibraltar as a "colony".[17][18]

Spanish position

The last of Gibraltar, depiction of Spanish Governor Diego de Salinas, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011).

Since the Anglo-Dutch capture of Gibraltar in 1704, Spain has tried to recover it by both military and diplomatic means. The 18th century saw three unsuccessful sieges (1704, 1727 and 1779–83). The decline in Spain's naval power and the British world preeminence during the 19th century made any recovery attempt by Spain unthinkable.[19] The claim was reactivated during the 1950s and especially during the 1960s by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. However, the quest for Gibraltar is largely a cross-ideology issue having been supported by politicians and public figures of any political sign for more than three centuries. In that sense, the president of the Spanish Republic in exile, Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz remarked that: "There cannot be a Spaniard worthy of the name, who can write, without blushing, that Gibraltar is not part of Spain. And if there is anyone who can write that without blushing, I take the liberty of blushing for him, as a liberal Spaniard in exile."[20]

Reclaiming the territory by peaceful means remains the policy of successive Spanish governments.

The traditional Spanish position is based on territorial integrity, as per UN Resolution 1514 (XV) (1960), which according to Spain complements and constrains the right to self-determination: "Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

During the 1960s, the UN General Assembly passed five resolutions on the issue (2231 (XXI), "Question of Gibraltar"[21] and 2353 (XXII), "Question of Gibraltar"[22]). The resolutions on the decolonisation of Gibraltar focused on the "interests" and not the "wishes" of the Gibraltarians. The latter resolution states that:

any colonial situation which partially or completely destroys the national unity and territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and especially with paragraph 6 of Resolution 1514 (XV) of the General Assembly [...] Invites the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to resume without delay the negotiations provided for in General Assembly Resolutions 2070 (XX) and 2231 (XXI), with a view to putting an end to the colonial situation in Gibraltar and to safeguarding the interests of the population.

From such a point of view, Gibraltarians are seen as mere "settlers" from the United Kingdom and other countries and only their interests, not their wishes (as the right to self-determination would involve), need be safeguarded. The point of view that they were settlers is supported by the fact that following the 1704 capture of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch troops, only around 70 out of the original 5,000 Spanish inhabitants chose to remain in Gibraltar.[23] Therefore, Spain has insisted that the Gibraltar dispute is a purely bilateral matter with the United Kingdom and has ignored the role and will of the Gibraltarians.

The first formal proposal on how to achieve the return of Gibraltar to Spain was made on 18 May 1966 by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fernando Castiella. The proposal comprised three clauses:[24][25]

  1. "The cancellation of the Treaty of Utrecht and the subsequent return of Gibraltar to Spain."
  2. "The stay of the British base in Gibraltar, its use being subject to a specific Anglo-Spanish agreement."
  3. "A 'Personal Statute' for Gibraltarians, under United Nations guarantee, protecting their cultural, social and economic interest in Gibraltar or anywhere else in Spain, including their British nationality. An 'appropriate ... administrative formula' should be also agreed."

The proposal was rejected by the British Government and by the Gibraltarians, which overwhelmingly voted to remain under British sovereignty in a referendum held in 1967 (12,138 to 44).

Therefore, the UN General Assembly adopted during its twenty-third session resolution 2429 of 1968 (XXIII) that denounce the 1967 referendum and requested the United Kingdom not delay negotiations.[26]

No further advance for the Spanish claims was achieved for the following forty years. In view of that, the Spanish position seems to have softened, being redirected towards some form of temporary or permanent arrangement to achieve joint sovereignty, which has been proposed by Spain and discussed with the British Government. Such a proposal was tabled by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fernando Morán, in 1985. The details of the proposal were not made public, but information released showed an offer on a treaty with the United Kingdom in order to "re-integrate" Gibraltar with Spain, while preserving Gibraltarians' way of life. They would keep their British nationality, as well as their existing political and labour rights, self-government and institutions. Morán proposed that a condominium or leaseback arrangement should be agreed, over a 15 or 20-year period.[27] This proposal was not formally rejected by Douglas Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary, until 1993.

In 1997 a second proposal was made by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abel Matutes, foreseeing a hundred-year period of joint sovereignty before a definite transfer to Spain.[28] A similar scheme was provisionally agreed between the Spanish and British governments in the spring of 2002, but this was eventually abandoned, after sustained opposition by the Gibraltarians that included the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum of 2002.

British position

In his evidence to the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee in 2008, Jim Murphy MP, Minister of State for Europe stated:[6]

The UK Government will never — 'never' is a seldom-used word in politics — enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people. In fact, we will never even enter into a process without that agreement. The word 'never' sends a substantial and clear commitment and has been used for a purpose. We have delivered that message with confidence to the peoples and the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain. It is a sign of the maturity of our relationship now that that is accepted as the UK's position.

On the other hand, the British Government has ruled out both the independence of Gibraltar and its integration into the United Kingdom. With regard to the option of independence, it refers to the Treaty of Utrecht as, according to the British view, it would require Spanish consent:[29]

I will note that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, Gibraltar's right of self determination is not constrained by the Treaty of Utrecht except in so far as Article X gives Spain the right of refusal should Britain ever renounce Sovereignty. Thus independence would only be an option with Spanish consent.

The option of integration was rejected on 26 June 1976, when the British Government issued the Hattersley Memorandum ruling out integration in order to "avoid innovations which might result in prolongation of the frontier restrictions imposed by Spain."[30]

Gibraltarian position

Gibraltarians argue that the Spanish claims are baseless, pointing to the right to self-determination of all peoples, guaranteed and enshrined by the UN, according to the UN Charter. Its article 1 states that "The Purposes of the United Nations are ... to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

To the same section 2 of Resolution 1514 (XV) states: "All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

Furthermore, resolution 2231 (XXI) itself recalls and demands implementation of Resolution 1514(XV) (guaranteeing Gibraltar's right to self-determination) and therefore the Spanish claim for its territorial integrity (which would not be affected by Gibraltar's decolonisation) cannot displace or extinguish the rights of the people of Gibraltar under resolution 1514(XV) or under the Charter. From this point of view, any additional right that Spain could claim by virtue of the "reversionary" clause contained in the Treaty of Utrecht is overruled and annulled under article 103 of the UN Charter: " In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail."

Gibraltar National Day, 2013

Finally, it is argued that there is in fact no principle in International Law or UN doctrine that can displace the inalienable right to self-determination. In this regard, in 2008, the UN 4th Committee rejected the claim that a dispute over sovereignty affected self-determination, affirming it to be a basic human right.[31]

The Gibraltar Government has also argued that Gibraltar is a British territory and therefore by definition not an integral part of any other state, implying that Spain's territorial integrity cannot be affected by anything that occurs in Gibraltar: "Even if integration of a territory was demanded by an interested State it could not be had without ascertaining the freely expressed will of the people, the very sine qua non of all decolonisation."

In a referendum held in Gibraltar in September 2002, Gibraltarian voters rejected even partial Spanish sovereignty.[32]

Speaking to the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs committee in March 2008 Peter Caruana the Chief Minister of Gibraltar noted:

Spain does not dispute that Gibraltar is properly, in law, British territory. Therefore, this is not disputed land. She has a political claim to the return of Gibraltar sovereignty, but she does not dispute the fact that in proper international law, she ceded sovereignty to Britain in perpetuity and therefore it is undisputed British sovereign territory.[33]

Gibraltarians seem to remain mistrustful of Spain despite improved relations.[34][35][36]

The isthmus

The territory of Gibraltar contains an 800-metre (2,625 ft) section of the isthmus that links the Rock[37] with Spain. Although it is argued by Spain that this section of the isthmus was never ceded by Spain; rather, it was gradually occupied de facto by the British,[38] this section of the isthmus together with the other half of it north of the Gibraltar-Spain border was once labelled as neutral territory separating Spain from Gibraltar.

The growth of Gibraltar onto the southern half of the isthmus began with the construction of two forts in the northernmost part of the ceded territory. In 1815, Gibraltar suffered a yellow fever epidemic. This led to a Spanish concession so a temporary quarantine health camp could be built on the isthmus. After the plague was over, the British did not remove the camp. In 1854, a new epidemic prompted more health camps, which eventually gained Gibraltar these extra 800 metres of land. The occupation of the isthmus culminated in 1938 with the construction of the aerodrome during the Spanish civil war.

The Treaty of Utrecht did not specify the extent of British sovereignty over Gibraltar beyond the fortified perimeter of the town as it was in 1713. However the Treaty ceded the town "together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging", which included several forts along the line of the current frontier. The United Kingdom further claims title to the southern half of the isthmus based on continuous possession over a long period.

The northern half of the neutral territory was also taken over by Spain in the 1960s, during dictator Francisco Franco's regime, and now forms an integral part of the Spanish municipality of La Línea de la Concepción.

Territorial waters

The treaty of Utrecht did not confer any territorial waters because Spain exclusively yielded the castle and the city of Gibraltar.[39]

The Spanish statement upon ratification of the Convention was:

2. In ratifying the Convention, Spain wishes to make it known that this act cannot be construed as recognition of any rights or status regarding the maritime space of Gibraltar that are not included in article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht of 13 July 1713 concluded between the Crowns of Spain and Great Britain. Furthermore, Spain does not consider that Resolution III of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea is applicable to the colony of Gibraltar, which is subject to a process of decolonization in which only relevant resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly are applicable.[40]

The British statement upon ratification of the Convention was:

With regard to point 2 of the declaration made upon ratification of the Convention by the Government of Spain, the Government of the United Kingdom has no doubt about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom over Gibraltar, including its territorial waters. The Government of the United Kingdom, as the administering authority of Gibraltar, has extended the United Kingdom's accession to the Convention and ratification of the Agreement to Gibraltar. The Government of the United Kingdom, therefore, rejects as unfounded point 2 of the Spanish declaration.[41]

Article 310 of the 1982 Convention specifies that "such statements and declarations cannot exclude or modify the legal effect of the provisions of the Convention" in their application.

The dispute over territorial waters, which was rekindled in 2013 following a fishing dispute[42] seems likely to become more important with the discovery of a British treasure ship, HMS Sussex, and the Black Swan Project controversy finally in 2009US Justice ruled in favour of the Spanish Kingdom. Questions about the waters have previously been asked in the House of Commons, and answered as follows:

Under international law, States are entitled, but not required, to extend their territorial sea up to a maximum breadth of 12 nautical miles. Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent, the general rule is that neither is entitled, unless they agree otherwise, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line. The UK Government considers that a limit of three nautical miles is sufficient in the case of Gibraltar.

The Government of Gibraltar for its part holds that there is no economic or social need for more than three nautical miles of territorial water.

At the end of 2008, the European Commission included most of the territorial waters that surround Gibraltar under a marine conservation area known as the "Estrecho Oriental" that will be maintained by Spain. The UK initiated legal proceedings with the support of Gibraltar, which were initially rejected by the General Court on procedural grounds. A 2011 appeal was dismissed, again on procedural grounds.[43] The European Court of Justice had again ruled against that appeal in 2012.[44]

There have been disputes concerning Spanish patrol boats inside these claimed territorial waters. In May 2009 there was a number of Spanish incursions into British-claimed waters around Gibraltar, including by a Spanish Navy fisheries protection vessel, leading to intervention by police and a diplomatic protest by the UK.[45][46] Further incursions were made in 2012,[47] and 2013.[48]

1953: Rekindling the dispute

In May 1954, despite objections by Spain, Queen Elizabeth II visited Gibraltar. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco had renewed claims to The Rock. British National Archives files from 1953 show that Franco claimed that Spain had been promised The Rock in return for not attacking the territory during the Second World War. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office conducted a full review of their files to see whether Franco's claim had any foundation. A confidential memo called the Spanish communiqué "a flimsy and unconvincing document", and the Government put an end to the dispute by refusing to comment on the claims.[49]


Main article: Economy of Gibraltar

The Spanish government argues[50] that Gibraltar's tax schemes harm the Spanish economy. In January 2005, the European Commissioner for Competition requested the UK (responsible for Gibraltar's external relations) to abolish Gibraltar's tax-exempt company regime by the end of 2010 (at the latest) on the basis that it constitutes illegal state aid that could distort competition.[51] Unlike other tax havens like Andorra, Gibraltar has not signed a mutual agreement with Spain to exchange fiscal information, although such an agreement has been offered by the Gibraltar Government, but Spain has declined to accept it because does not consider Gibraltar as its diplomatic counterpart.[52] Another concern is that each day thousands of Spaniards buy goods at cheaper prices in Gibraltar due to exchange rates and lack of VAT, contributing to the Gibraltar economy instead of that of Spain.

The Spanish government wants to increase the exchange of fiscal information[50] in order to prevent Gibraltar banks being used for tax evasion and money laundering. The United Kingdom House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has directed an inquiry that determined that Gibraltar has always complied with all international and EU requirements to prevent such activity.

We conclude that the series of allegations which Spain makes against Gibraltar appear almost wholly to be without substance. In many cases, it is not just the Government of Gibraltar but the British Government as well which is traduced. It is deeply regrettable that allegations are made that cannot be sustained by a basis in fact. If concrete evidence of wrong-doing were produced, the British Government should act promptly to deal with the problem. But so long as allegations are unsubstantiated, the British Government should continue to rebut them promptly and decisively.[53]

Referred to as an "international financial centre",[54] Gibraltar was among 35 jurisdictions identified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a tax haven in June 2000.[55] As a result of having made a commitment in accordance with the OECD's 2001 Progress Report on the OECD's Project on Harmful Tax Practices, Gibraltar was not included in the OECD's list of uncooperative tax havens.[55] However, in its April 2009 progress report, the OECD listed Gibraltar in the list of jurisdictions that, although committed, had not "substantially implemented" yet the internationally agreed tax standard.[56] Following Gibraltar's signing of 12 additional Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs), as of October 2009, with jurisdictions including the UK, USA and Germany,[57] Gibraltar was listed in the OECD "white list". It is currently listed as "largely compliant" by the OECD's Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.[58]

Along with the Isle of Man and Cyprus, Gibraltar has been used as an international finance centre by the Russian conglomerate Yukos/Menatep.[59]

There have been claims that some Gibraltarian motorboats are engaging in drugs and tobacco smuggling.[60] However, since 1996 there has been a law in Gibraltar controlling fast launches licensing their ownership and importation and prohibiting the entry of unlicensed craft into Gibraltar waters. In 2014, inspectors from the EU's fraud office OLAF wrote to the Spanish governments urging an investigation of tobacco smuggling, amid revelations that Gibraltar, with a population of less than 30,000, imported 117 million packets of cigarettes in 2013.[61] In 2015, Spanish authorities broke up a major tobacco smuggling operation, seizing 65,000 packs of cigarettes, five boats, two firearms, communications equipment and €100,000 cash.[62] Authorities estimated the group was smuggling 150,000 packs of contraband tobacco in to Spain every week.[62]

Military importance

Military control of the Strait of Gibraltar has historically been the most important use of Gibraltar, allowing Britain to defend its trade lanes to the East. The British admiral Lord Fisher stated that Gibraltar was one of the five keys that locked the world, together with Dover, Alexandria, Cape of Good Hope and Singapore, all of which were once controlled by Britain.

Its military relevance has reduced with the construction in 1953 of the US Naval Station Rota (the biggest Allied base in the area) and with the end of the Cold War, but it is still an important position as more than one quarter of the global maritime traffic transits through the strait every year. Controlling the strait is of vital importance to NATO. The task of controlling the strait has been traditionally assigned by NATO to the UK, but the recent advances that Spain has made in its armed forces and the bases Spain has in the zone have made NATO reconsider this.[63] However, the tense relations that Spain had with the American administration under George W. Bush and the special friendship of the US with the UK have caused NATO to take a more favourable position towards the UK and Morocco for control of the strait.[64]


The closed Spanish gate at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, 1977

In a 1967 referendum on sovereignty organised by the British Government, 99.6% of voters voted to remain under British sovereignty.

In a second referendum on sovereignty held in November 2002 by the Government of Gibraltar, 187 voted yes (1%) and 17,900 voted no (99%) on the proposal of sharing sovereignty with Spain.[65] The question put was:

On the 12 July 2002 the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in a formal statement in the House of Commons, said that after twelve months of negotiation the British Government and Spain are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement of Spain's sovereignty claim, which included the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar.

Do you approve of the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar?

Spanish reaction varied from questioning the validity of the process, to observing that no Spanish government has done enough to make joint sovereignty or integration with Spain an attractive prospect.[66]

It is reported that Spanish "secret funds" were used to create a favourable opinion in Gibraltar to the Spanish sovereignty claim.[67] How the money was spent remains uncertain.

Recent disputes

2000 — An issue of contention was the repair of the nuclear powered submarine, HMS Tireless. The Government of Spain expressed its concern about the effective safety for the inhabitants of Gibraltar and those living in the Campo de Gibraltar the adjacent area in Spain, some 250,000 people.

The inhabitants of the area saw this repair as a precedent of future repair operations in Gibraltar rather than the one-off emergency the British Government has claimed (no other nuclear submarine has been repaired in Gibraltar since). On the other hand, the Government of Gibraltar accused Spain of using this incident as an excuse to justify its 300-year-old sovereignty claim to Gibraltar. Despite many protests, the Government of Gibraltar allowed the work to be done after employing its own experts to confirm it could be undertaken safely. The submarine was in Gibraltar for a year before leaving, during which the repair was completed without incident.

Subsequently Spanish politicians have complained about every nuclear submarine visit to Gibraltar, and have tried unsuccessfully to get a reassurance that this would totally stop. There have been no further protests against nuclear submarines in Gibraltar. Commenting, the Government of Gibraltar said: "Nuclear submarine visits to Gibraltar are a matter for UK and Gibraltar. Visits for operational or recreational purposes are welcome by the Gibraltar Government ... To our knowledge, it is not the position of the present Spanish Government or any previous Spanish Government, that it is opposed to visits by nuclear submarines."

2002 — In the months that predated the referendum called by the Gibraltar government on the joint sovereignty agreement disagreements could be categorised as:

2004 — A visit by The Princess Royal in June 2004, the brief return of HMS Tireless in July 2004, together with the Tercentenary Celebrations of the capture of The Rock were subjects of complaint by the Spanish Government.

A new round of talks on a tri-lateral basis were proposed in October 2004 to discuss regional co-operation. In February 2005 the first talks took place at a meeting held in Málaga and subsequently in Portugal and London.

This is the first sign of formal recognition of the Government of Gibraltar, and has been generally welcomed. The main issues of the talks have been a new agreement on the airport, the pensions of the Spanish workers that worked in Gibraltar during the sixties, and the removal of Spanish restrictions on telecommunications.

2006 — Those issues were successfully resolved in September 2006 in the Córdoba Agreement. The process continues.

2007 — A bulk carrier, the MV New Flame, ran aground south of Europa Point in Gibraltar and broke up on the reef in August 2007, generating accusations of pollution in Spain and claims not only against the Government of Gibraltar but also against that of Spain.[68] Its cargo was scrap metal and the vessel's fuel was promptly drained.[69][70][71] The Government of Gibraltar claimed in December 2007 that the operation did not represent a material risk to the environment since the vessel had been defuelled and only small, remnant amounts of fuel remained in the engines themselves.[72] The Spanish branch of Greenpeace claimed that, as late as February 2008, fuel spills from the New Flame had polluted Spanish beaches around the Bay of Gibraltar.[73] Official Spanish sources played this down stating that the fuel reaching the beaches of Algeciras was in "insignificant amounts".[74]

2009 — The dispute over British-claimed territorial waters gained prominence with deliberate incursions by Spain, triggering angry headlines in the UK tabloid press.[75] In December 2009, four armed Civil Guard officers were detained after three landed in Gibraltar in pursuit of two suspected smugglers, who were themselves arrested. The Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba personally telephoned Chief Minister Peter Caruana to apologise, stating that there were "no political intentions" behind the incident. The Chief Minister was prepared to accept it had not been a political act. The Spanish officers were released by the police the following day, who said that "Enquiries established that the Guardia Civil mistakenly entered Gibraltar Territorial Waters in hot pursuit and have since apologised for their actions."[76][77]

2012 — Queen Sofía of Spain cancelled plans to travel to the United Kingdom to participate in the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The cancellation was a protest in response to a planned visit to Gibraltar by Prince Edward. The Spanish government also lodged a protest to the planned visit by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Relations between Britain and Spain reportedly "returned to a state of growing confrontation" following the election of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Spanish People's Party in December 2011.[78] Plans for a 100-boat flotilla to sail around the peninsula to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee were adopted in Gibraltar as "a show of defiance against Spain."[79] Additional protests followed in August 2012 after Gibraltar abrogated an accord that allowed Spanish fishing boats to operate in its waters.[80][81]

2013 — Disagreements between Spain and the United Kingdom Government re-surfaced in July 2013, initially after the Gibraltar Government placed a number of concrete blocks in the sea off the coast of Gibraltar, intending to form an artificial reef. The Spanish Government protested however stating that it had a negative impact on fishing in the area, restricting access for Spanish fishing vessels. At the end of July the Spanish Government introduced extra border checks for people going in and out of the territory into Spain. The British Government protested as the checks were causing major delays of up to seven hours while people waited to cross the border, and on 2 August the Spanish Ambassador was summoned to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to discuss these developments.[82]

On 2 August 2013, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo gave an interview to ABC newspaper in Spain. He announced possible plans to introduce a 50 euro border crossing fee for people going to and from Gibraltar, in response to the creation of the artificial Reef. Plans to close Spanish airspace to Gibraltar bound flights were also reported, as were plans for an investigation by Spanish tax authorities into property owned by around 6,000 Gibraltarians in neighbouring parts of Spain. The Spanish Foreign Minister also mooted plans to changes in the law meaning British online gaming companies based in Gibraltar would have to base servers in Spain, meaning that they would come under Madrid's tax regime.

The British Foreign office responded to these comments : "The prime minister has made clear that the UK government will meet its constitutional commitments to the people of Gibraltar and will not compromise on sovereignty."[83]

2016 — After the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd, Spain has voiced that it wants to jointly govern Gibraltar with the United Kingdom.[84]

Spanish restrictions

After the Spanish constitution, Spain was still reluctant to re-open the border because of the consequences it might have. However the border was re-opened in 1984, allowing free access between both sides, although Spain did not open ferry services until later. Further problems have been encountered regarding the airport, as it is placed on disputed neutral land. Under the Lisbon Agreement of 1980:

Both Governments have reached agreement on the re-establishment of direct communications in the region. The Spanish Government has decided to suspend the application of the measures at present in force.

This was to include reinstatement of a ferry service between Gibraltar and Algeciras. This was finally reinstated after 40 years, on 16 December 2009, operated by the Spanish company Transcoma.[85]

At the end of 2006, the restrictions on the airport were removed as a result of the Córdoba Agreement (2006) and direct flights from Madrid by Iberia started operation.[86]

However, On 22 September 2008, Iberia announced that it would cease its flights to Madrid by 28 September due to "economic reasons", namely, lack of demand. This left Gibraltar without any air links with Spain,[87] until May 2009 when Air Andalus opened a service.[88] Air communications with Spain ceased again in August 2010, when Air Andalus lost its licence.

Spain demonstrated opposition to Gibraltar's membership of Union of European Football Associations.[89]

Political development

The Gibraltarians have sought a more modern status and relationship with the United Kingdom reflecting and expanding the present level of self-government.

A new constitution order was approved in a referendum in 2006, which moved Gibraltar to a more Crown dependency-like relationship with the UK, rather than the previous colonial status.[90] The new constitution came into effect in January 2007. Gibraltar is classified as a British overseas territory.

In a letter to the UN the British representative, Emyr Jones Parry, writes: "The new constitution provides for a modern relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. I do not think that this description would apply to any relationship based on colonialism."[91]

Chief Minister Peter Caruana addressed the UN Special Committee on Decolonization regarding the new constitution in 2008. He put forth Gibraltar Government's view that "As far as we are concerned, the decolonisation of Gibraltar is no longer a pending issue."[92]

Parallel with this, the Government of Gibraltar has engaged in talks with Spain to resolve other disputes, setting aside the issue of sovereignty.

See also



  1. "Regions and territories: Gibraltar". British Broadcasting Corporation. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  2. Mark Oliver; Sally Bolton; Jon Dennis; Matthew Tempest (4 August 2004). "Gibraltar". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  3. "Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence: Examination of Witnesses; Jim Murphy replying to question 257 from Mr. Hamilton". 28 March 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2012. The UK Government will never – "never" is a seldom-used word in politics – enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people. In fact, we will never even enter into a process without that agreement.
  4. 1 2 3 "Political Development". Government of Gibraltar Information Services. 2006.
  5. Caruana, Peter (5 October 2006). "Press Release: Chief Minister's address at the United Nations Fourth Committee on 4 October 2006." (PDF). Government of Gibraltar. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 November 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  6. 1 2 The Committee Office, House of Commons. "Answer to Q257 at the FAC hearing". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  7. Spain in rare talks on Gibraltar at BBC News, 21 July 2009
  8. Maurice Harvey (1996). Gibraltar. A History. Spellmount Limited. p. 68. ISBN 1-86227-103-8.
  9. "Treaty of Utrecht (Article X)". Gibraltar Action Group. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  10. Simon J. Lincoln (1994). "The Legal Status of Gibraltar: Whose Rock is it Anyway?". Fordham International Law Journal, Volume 18, Issue 1 page 308. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  11. "Informe sobre la cuestión cisi Gibraltar". Spanish Foreign Ministry (Spanish). 25 March 2010. Archived from the original on November 3, 2009.
  12. "Address to UN". Archived from the original on 24 November 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2008.
  13. "Chief Minister's Speech to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation". Government of Gibraltar. 8 October 2009. Archived from the original on 13 November 2009. Mr Chairman, nobody who visits Gibraltar and observes its society and self government can objectively think that Gibraltar, in reality, remains a colony.
  14. "First Spanish minister to visit Gibraltar for 300 years". London Evening Standard. 20 July 2009.
  15. "Gibraltar profile" (PDF). United Nations.
  16. "Special Committee on Decolonisation hears petitioner from Gibraltar as Spain opposes its removal from list of Non-Self-Governing Territories". UN. 9 June 2009.
  17. "Gibraltar.- Straw reprocha a Moratinos que diga que la relación entre Londres y Gibraltar es 'colonial'". Lukor.com. Archived from the original on 25 February 2009.
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  19. Trudy Ring; Robert M. Salkin; Sharon La Boda (1995). International Dictionary of Historic Places: Southern Europe. Taylor & Francis. p. 283. ISBN 1-884964-02-8.
  20. Gold, Peter (2005). Gibraltar: British or Spanish?. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 0-415-34795-5.
  21. UN General Assembly (1966). "Resolution 2231(XXI). Question of Gibraltar" (PDF). Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly during its Twenty-First Session. United Nations. Retrieved 16 December 2005.
  22. UN General Assembly (1967). "Resolution 2353(XXII). Question of Gibraltar" (PDF). Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly during its Twenty-Second Session. United Nations. Retrieved 16 December 2005.
  23. Sayer, Frederick (1865) p. 116
  24. George Hills (1974). Rock of Contention. A History of Gibraltar. London: Robert Hale. p. 456. ISBN 0-7091-4352-4.
  25. United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1966). Gibraltar talks with Spain (May–October 1966). Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by Command of Her Majesty. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. p. 36.
  26. "Resolution 2429 (XXIII): Question of Gibraltar". UN General Assembly. 18 December 1968.
  27. Gold, Peter (2005). Gibraltar: British or Spanish?. Routledge. p. 66. ISBN 0-415-34795-5.
  28. Gold, Peter (2005). Gibraltar: British or Spanish?. Routledge. p. 180. ISBN 0-415-34795-5.
  29. Statement in the House of Commons by The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Jack Straw, 27 March 2006
  30. Written answer of Mr. Hattersley to Mrs. Hart, HC Deb 3 August 1976 vol 916 cc726-7W.
  31. "Following intense debate, Fourth Committee approves amended omnibus text on Non-Self-Governing Territories". United Nations General Assembly. Department of Public Information. 20 October 2008. The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) would have the General Assembly reaffirm the inalienable right of the peoples of 11 of the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination by an "omnibus" draft resolution it approved today.
  32. "Q&A: Gibraltar's referendum". BBC News. BBC. 8 November 2002. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
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  34. Simmonds, Charlotte (23 May 2014). "Football is the most political of all sports". New Statesman.
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  37. Gibraltar is frequently known as The Rock
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  40. "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Declarations made upon signature, ratification, accession or succession or anytime thereafter (Spain)". UN.
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  86. "First Iberia flight". Gibnews.net. (registration required (help)).
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British sources

Spanish sources

Further reading

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