Status Quo Side: United Kingdom
Non-Status Quo Side: Spain
Conflict Type: Interstate
Issues in Dispute: Strategic Territory
Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 during the war of Spanish succession, and ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Spain has periodically disputed British sovereignty since 1778. Francisco Franco in 1963 took Spain's case to the UN, which in 1966 rejected self-determination as an option. But some 25,000 Gibraltarians, offered the right to remain under British rule as long as they wished, voted 12,138 to 44 in favor in a 1967 referendum. In December 1968 the UN called on Britain to end Gibraltar's colonial status by October 1 1969. The British met the letter though not the spirit or intent of the UN's declaration by making Gibraltar a self-governing dependency in the constitution of May 30 1969. Outraged, Franco closed the border, including telepone links, on June 6 1969.
After Franco's death in 1975, democratic Spain's application to join the EEC in July 1977 implied compromise in that British support for Spain appeared at least partially contingent on a resolution, since a blockade of one EEC member by another was unthinkable. Spain's belligerence was modified also by its links with the US, Britain's main ally, and by the prospect that Morocco might see a precedent and try to recover Spain's North African possessions of Ceuta and Melilla. In April 1980 the two parties signed the Lisbon agreements, providing that the border would open in return for talks "without preconditions".
Public opposition in Spain, intensified by the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas war, delayed the opening. Filipe Gonzalez's socialist government reached agreement with Britain in November 1984 to reopen the border in February 1985, in exchange for discussions respecting both the inhabitants' wishes and the sovereignty issue. Britain supported Spain's accession to the EEC, completed in mid-1985. Britain's dilemma remained of its commitment to self-determination and the implacable opposition of Gibraltar's inhabitants to any concessions to Spain. A 1987 attempt to give greater Spanish access to Gibraltar's airport prompted a petition signed by almost all adults and threats of wildcat strikes.
In 1997 Spain proposed joint control for 50-60 years, and the Gibraltar government suggested a status of "crown dependency" like the Channel Islands. In December Spain proposed joint sovereignty, immediately rejected by Gibraltans. In February, 1999, as a dispute over fishing rights and tightened Spanish border controls increased British-Spanish tensions, the Spanish Foreign Minister told workers protesting delays that border restrictions would remain until Gibraltar complied with EU directives against tax evasion, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
Copyright © 2000 Lincoln P. Bloomfield and Allen Moulton