Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


British acquisition

4. Gibraltar was first settled by Moors in 1292, and subsequently fought over between Moorish and Spanish rulers before being taken by Spain in 1492. The area was intensively disputed. In 1497 Spain took Melilla, and in 1580 Ceuta, its two enclaves on the North African coast.[3] In 1704, Gibraltar was captured by the British in the name of the Hapsburg claimant to the Spanish throne. All non-English troops were expelled from the Rock in 1711, and Gibraltar passed under British sovereignty under Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713[4]—the Treaty which brought to an end the War of Spanish Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht clearly established British sovereignty over the area within the 1704 City Wall. It also provides that Spain will have the first option of ownership of Gibraltar if "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." The ownership of the land between the City wall and the present boundary fence (the southern part of the isthmus) is, however, a matter of dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain. The British Government regard British title as "based on continuous possession over a long period."[5] It has been occupied since 1804, with the present boundary fence erected in 1908. Spain does not accept British title to this land, and also denies that the Treaty of Utrecht conveys any right to territorial waters for Gibraltar.

The 1960s and 1970s

5. Spain has always regarded Gibraltar as "a stone in its shoe." Military campaigns aimed at re-taking the Rock and Isthmus may be a thing of the past, but since World War II (when Gibraltar was a vital asset in launching the allied invasion of North Africa) Spain has mounted periodic campaigns of vituperation and harassment against Gibraltar. In 1954 Spain introduced border restrictions. These were intensified in 1964 after a new constitution gave Gibraltar more internal self-government. In 1965 the Spanish customs post at La Linea was closed. Onerous restrictions on overflying were introduced in 1967.

6. The clear wishes of the Gibraltar people were expressed in a 1967 Referendum when 12138 Gibraltarians voted for British rule, and 44 for Spanish.[6] Despite this, in the 1960s, the United Nations General Assembly, with its decolonisation agenda, passed a number of resolutions in respect of Gibraltar. One of these resolutions[7] called for "the administering power to terminate the colonial situation in Gibraltar no later than 1 October 1969." The reaction of the British Government was to introduce the Gibraltar Government Order in Council. This established a House of Assembly and a Government in Gibraltar, and, in its Preamble, promised that "Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their freely and democratically expressed wishes."

7. The Spanish reaction to the Constitution Order was to close the border completely; to cancel the ferry service from Algeciras, and to cut off telephone links. No progress was made in the early 1970s in resolving the dispute, but, as the Franco era closed, there was some softening in Spanish attitudes (telephone links were restored for Christmas 1975 and for Christmas 1976, after which they were allowed to remain open). There was also an expectation that a democratic Spanish Government would prove more reasonable than Franco had been.

The Lisbon Statement

8. After preparatory meetings in 1977 and 1978, a significant point was reached in April 1980 when Lord Carrington, the then Foreign Secretary, and Señor Oreja, the then Spanish Foreign Minister, issued what has since come to be known as the Lisbon Statement.[8] This stated an aim "to resolve, in a spirit of friendship, the Gibraltar problem"; "negotiations aimed at overcoming all the differences" between Spain and the United Kingdom were to be opened; communications were to be re-established; and the "need to develop practical co-operation on a mutually beneficial basis" was recognised. Both countries also re-stated their positions on sovereignty.

9. The full text of the Statement is as follows:

"The British and Spanish Government, desiring to strengthen their bilateral relations and thus to contribute to European and Western solidarity, intend, in accordance with the relevant United Nations Resolutions, to resolve, in a spirit of friendship, the Gibraltar problem.

Both Governments have therefore agreed to start negotiations aimed at overcoming all the differences between them on Gibraltar.

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.

Both Governments have agreed that future co-operation should be on the basis of reciprocity and full equality of rights. They look forward to the further steps which will be taken on both sides which they believe will open the way to closer understanding between those directly concerned in this area.

To this end both Governments will be prepared to consider any proposals which the other may wish to make, recognising the need to develop practical co-operation on a mutually beneficial basis.

The Spanish Government, in reaffirming its position on the re-establishment of the territorial integrity of Spain, restates its intention that, in the outcome of the negotiations, the interests of the Gibraltarians should be fully safeguarded. For its part the British Government will fully maintain its commitment to honour the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the preamble to the Gibraltar Constitution.

Officials on both sides will meet as soon as possible to prepare the necessary practical steps which will permit the implementation of the proposals agreed to above. It is envisaged that these preparations will be completed not later than 1 June."      

10. Different interpretations were placed upon the Lisbon agreement in London, Madrid and Gibraltar. Essentially the Spanish saw the Lisbon Statement as opening the opportunity for discussions on sovereignty; the Gibraltarians (at a time when there was no free movement of labour) were concerned about free movement of Spaniards into Gibraltar; while the British regarded the Lisbon Statement as useful in leading to the lifting of restrictions by Spain, with any wider discussions being a matter for the longer term. In any event, what the FCO describes as "internal and external factors on both sides"[9] (including the Falklands War) led to no real progress being made under the Lisbon Statement.

The Brussels Process

11. Meanwhile Spain had embarked upon the process of seeking membership of the European Community (EC), of which Gibraltar had been a part since British accession to the EC in 1973, and of NATO. This augured well for the removal of restrictions. In evidence to this Committee's predecessor in 1981, the FCO said that "the British Government has made no formal link [of Spanish membership of the EC] with the lifting of restrictions on Gibraltar, since these should be removed and the border re-opened long before Spain joins the Community. However, it is inconceivable that a closed frontier could exist between two parts of the EC."[10] The border was indeed opened to pedestrians in 1982, and then fully re-opened in 1985 in advance of Spain's entry into EC membership on 1 January 1986.[11] Spain had joined NATO in May 1982.[12]

12. An important development in bilateral discussions in this period was the signing of the Brussels Agreement of 27 November 1984. The provisions of this Agreement were as follows:

"(1a) The provision of equality and reciprocity of rights for Spaniards in Gibraltar and Gibraltarians in Spain. This will be implemented through the mutual concession of the rights which citizens of European Community countries enjoy, taking into account the transitional periods and derogations agreed between Spain and the Community. The necessary legislative proposals to achieve this will be introduced in Spain and Gibraltar. As concerns paid employment, and recalling the general principle of Community preference, this carries the implication that during the transitional period each side will be favourably disposed to each other's citizens when granting work permits. (1b) The establishment of the free movement of persons, vehicles and goods between Gibraltar and the neighbouring territory. (1c) The establishment of a negotiating process aimed at overcoming all the differences between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar and at promoting co-operation on a mutually beneficial basis on economic, cultural, touristic, aviation, military and environmental matters. Both sides accept that the issues of sovereignty will be discussed in that process. The British government will fully maintain its commitment to honour the wishes of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the preamble of the 1969 constitution. (2) Insofar as the airspace in the region of Gibraltar is concerned, the Spanish government undertakes to take the early actions necessary to allow safe and effective air communications. (3) There will be meetings of working groups, which will be reviewed periodically in meetings for this purpose between the Spanish and British Foreign Ministers."

13. Essentially much of the Agreement was a precursor to the normal relations between parts of the EC so far as matters like mobility of labour were concerned. Other unexceptional matters, such as economic and cultural co-operation, reflected the geographical reality of the interdependence between Gibraltar and its Spanish hinterland. However, the Agreement also provided for a process of discussions (which came to be known as the Brussels Process), and accepted that sovereignty was a matter which could form part of that discussion process.

14. Not surprisingly, Spanish Governments have sought to make proposals under the Brussels Process so far as the sovereignty of Gibraltar is concerned. Proposals were tabled by the then Spanish Foreign Minister, Señor Moran, in 1985. This coincided with the opening of the frontier. The details of the proposals appear not to have been published, but Señor Moran said in a television interview[13] that Spain was seeking a treaty with the United Kingdom which would "re-integrate" Gibraltar with Spain, while preserving Gibraltarians' way of life. Although there was an immediate response from the then Prime Minister that the United Kingdom would not agree to transfer Gibraltar's sovereignty to Spain against the express wishes of the Gibraltarian people,[14] the proposals remained formally on the table until they were rejected by Mr Hurd, the then British Foreign Secretary at a Brussels Process meeting in March 1993—almost eight years later.[15]

15. The present Spanish Government, through its Foreign Minister, Señor Abel Matutes, tabled new proposals in December 1997. These proposals have not formally been published, though their "outline... has appeared in the media."[16] According to those reports,[17] Señor Matutes set out the traditional Spanish view that, as a colony, Gibraltar was an anachronism, and that, in any case, the United Kingdom had no title to the isthmus or to territorial waters. For Spain, Gibraltar was "an amputation of the integrity of our territory." Señor Matutes argued that the "consideration which the British Government has thus far given to "the wishes" of the people of Gibraltar has been subterfuge or excuse for not entering into in-depth negotiations"—and that, in any case, the 1967 referendum occurred when political circumstances in Spain were very different. He therefore proposed:

  (i)  giving Gibraltar political and administrative autonomy within Spain;

  (ii)  offering Gibraltarians Spanish citizenship, but allowing them to retain dual nationality;

  (iii)  an indefinite transitional period of joint sovereignty.

He argued that such a status would represent an improvement for Gibraltarians in political and economic terms, and he characterised his proposals as "a fresh attempt, on generous terms, to create a stimulus to change the course of this process."

16. Señor Matutes did, however, make it plain that any blockage or rejection of his proposals would have adverse consequences for Gibraltar. He is quoted as saying that "we would have to continue to prevent Gibraltar from existing and prospering at the expense of Spain," and he referred in this context to "illegal trafficking and unfair competition" and to a "web of crime possibly protected by the complicity of local police." He also threatened to block any attempt "to separate Gibraltar from British cover" which he regarded as implicit in giving it an international identity separate from that of the United Kingdom, and he referred particularly to Spain's objection to separate Gibraltarian international documentation or separate Gibraltarian authorities established for EU purposes.[18] He has reiterated these threats, having, for example, told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Congress of Deputies that Spain was not willing to accept deadlock in discussions, but that it would apply extreme pressure on Gibraltar if negotiations did not proceed.[19] Further economic measures—including those known as "Plan B"—were threatened by Señor Matutes in November 1998.[20]

3   Ceuta passed formally to Spain under the Treaty of Lisbon of 1688. Back

4   See Appendix 1 to the Report for a full text of this Article. Back

5   Ev. p. 1, para. 1. Back

6   See para. 107 below. Back

7   Resolution 2429 of 1968. Back

8   Ev. p. 3, para. 24. Back

9   Ev. p. 3, para. 25. Back

10   HC 166, Session 1980-81, Ev. p. 3. Back

11   Ev. p. 3, para. 23. Back

12   See para. 95 below. Back

13   Weekend World, 3 February 1985. Back

14   HC Deb 5 February 1985 c. 744. Back

15   Ev. p. 4, para. 27. Back

16   Ev. p. 4, para. 28. Back

17   We were sent these by the FCO. Back

18   Ev. p. 39, para. 62. Back

19   El País, 19 February 1998; Ev. p. 39, para. 63. Back

20   Ev. p. 39, para. 63; p. 7, para. 60; Q175. Back

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Prepared 22 June 1999