Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report



488.  The peninsula that is Gibraltar is in Europe, bordering the Strait of Gibraltar on the southern coast of Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar links the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.


489.  On 4 August 1704 Admiral Sir George Rooke, in command of an Anglo-Dutch fleet, landed at Gibraltar, overcame its Spanish garrison and established a British military base. Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. A series of further treaties between 1729 and 1763 confirmed this. The Spanish made a number of attempts to recover the Rock by force up until 1783. In 1830 Gibraltar became a Crown Colony and increasingly important to British defence and commercial interests. Due to its strategic position it played an important role during the Second World War (when the civilian population was evacuated), particularly in the Allied landings in North Africa in 1942.

490.  Since 1783 Spain has continued to lay claim to the sovereignty of Gibraltar by non-military means, including the closure of the border in 1969. The border closure was triggered by adoption of a constitution for Gibraltar which followed a majority vote to remain under British sovereignty in a referendum held in 1967. The constitution devolved responsibility for certain matters (termed Defined Domestic Matters) to an elected government of Gibraltar while the Governor retained other responsibilities (principally those for external affairs, defence and internal security). The Preamble to the Constitution Order stated that HMG would never allow the people of Gibraltar to pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.

491.  In 1980 full restoration of communications was agreed at a meeting of British and Spanish Foreign Ministers in Lisbon (although the border was not fully reopened until 1985).

492.  In 1984 the United Kingdom and Spain agreed the Brussels communiqué, which provided for "the establishment of a negotiating process aimed at overcoming all the differences between them over Gibraltar", including issues of sovereignty. Infrequent but regular meetings under the Brussels Process continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but with little progress. On 10 December 1997, at the last meeting under the Brussels Process before the Process was relaunched in July 2001, the then Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr Matutes, proposed a transition period of joint British and Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar before sovereignty would revert to Spain.[690] There was considerable public and political opposition to the Matutes proposals in Gibraltar, but throughout the period between December 1997 and July 2001, the Government declined to endorse or reject the Matutes joint sovereignty proposals, saying instead that the British response would be made at the next Brussels Process meeting.

493.  On 22 June 2001, the Foreign Secretary announced in the course of a general debate in the House on Foreign Affairs and Defence that the Government would "pursue a range of contacts, including bilateral contacts with Spain, on [...] issues relating to Gibraltar, including the continuation of the Brussels process."[691] On 10 July 2001, Europe Minister Peter Hain formally announced the resumption of the Brussels Process talks, without endorsing the Matutes proposals. The FCO now says that there was agreement at this time to put the sovereignty issue to one side.

494.  Further meetings took place in Barcelona on 20 November 2001 and in London on 4 February 2002. On 12 July 2002, the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reported to Parliament on the progress of the talks. He told the House that the Government was in broad agreement with Spain on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement and the UK would only reach a final agreement it could commend to the people of Gibraltar. Jack Straw also told the House that any agreement would have to be permanent and that existing military arrangements would have to continue. As a reaction to the 12 July statement, the government of Gibraltar organised a referendum on the principle of joint sovereignty with Spain. Neither the UK nor Spanish governments played any part in the referendum, which took place on 7 November 2002. There was an 88% turnout, with 98.5% voting against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. Following the referendum, the Brussels process talks lapsed and the sovereignty issue was effectively removed from the agenda.

495.  In October 2004 Spain and the UK agreed to consider and consult further on how to establish a new forum for dialogue on Gibraltar, with an open agenda, in which Gibraltar would have its own voice. This resulted in the Cordoba Agreement, concluded on 18 September 2006 (see para 388, chapter 5, Part One for details of agreement).

496.  The last elections in Gibraltar were held on 11 October 2007. The Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) won 49.3% of the votes and gained ten seats in Gibraltar's Parliament. A coalition of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP), led by Hon Joe Bossano MP and the Gibraltar Liberal Party (GLP), led by Dr Joseph Garcia, won 45.5% of the votes and gained four and three seats respectively.

Constitutional status

497.  On 2 January 2007, a new constitution came into force in Gibraltar, after it had been approved by over 60% of those who voted in a referendum on 30 November 2006. The constitution defines the responsibilities of the Governor as relating to the areas of external affairs, defence, internal security and the public service, a reversal of the previous practice whereby the responsibilities of the government of Gibraltar were defined. The House of Assembly has also been renamed the Gibraltar Parliament, and given the power to determine its own size.

Evidence received

498.  A delegation of the Committee visited Gibraltar in June 2007.

499.  The Committee received 13 submissions from Gibraltar, including from the government of Gibraltar and the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee also received a submission from Spain's Ambassador to the UK.

500.  The Committee heard oral evidence from the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar in January and February 2008.

Key recommendations

  • We conclude that Gibraltar's presence on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories is an anachronism. We recommend that the Government continues to make representations to the UN about delisting the Territory and that it makes clear that it is only sending the UN progress reports on Gibraltar because it is obliged to do so. (para 41)
  • We recommend that Overseas Territory government representatives from Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and any other Territory wishing to do so should be permitted to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. The Foreign Secretary should continue to lay a wreath on behalf of other Territories. (para 141)
  • We recommend that the FCO should encourage Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Gibraltar to continue to make progress in improving financial regulation, in particular in arrangements for investigating money laundering. (para 311)
  • We welcome the Cordoba Agreement and the progress being made on cooperation between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK in the Trilateral Forum. We note that the pensions settlement which was part of the Agreement was costly for the UK, but we welcome an end to the "pensions scam" and the removal of other potential liabilities on the UK. We recommend that the Government continues making strong representations to Spain and within NATO at the highest level about the unacceptability of Spain's continuing restrictions on direct naval, army and airforce movements or military communications between Spain and Gibraltar. We further recommend that the Government continues to make strong representations to Spain about its failure to recognise Gibraltar's territorial waters and its objections to international conventions being extended to Gibraltar. (para 414)

690   Matutes proposed that at this later stage Spain would offer Gibraltar a similar level of political and administrative autonomy as in the Spanish Autonomous Communities.  Back

691   HC Deb, 22 June 2001, col 284 Back

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