Gibraltar consists of a narrow peninsula linked to the south-west coast of Spain by an isthmus.
Gibraltar was a stronghold of the Moors, but Spain held the Rock for 242 years of continuous occupation until 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession, when it was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht. A century later the Treaty of Versailles confirmed Britain’s title to Gibraltar. The Rock had been of vital strategic importance to Britain during the Napoleonic wars, a role it maintained. During the two world wars of the twentieth century, it was a centre for refitting ships, an air base, and a key-point in anti-submarine operations.
Successive Spanish governments have accepted the validity of the Treaty of Utrecht but argued that British sovereignty over the Rock is an anachronism. In 1960 the UN General Assembly called for the decolonization of countries ruled by an alien power. In 1963 the UN Committee of 24 charged with pursuing this task, asked the UK for a list of its remaining colonies. The UK complied, including Gibraltar although it had not consulted the people of Gibraltar. In 1964 the UN adopted a resolution that Gibraltar should be returned to Spain.
During the 1960s, the Franco regime imposed restrictions on communications between Spain and the Rock. In a referendum in 1967, Gibraltarians voted by 12,138 to 44 to stay British. But the Spanish government considered the Gibraltarians settlers and their wishes irrelevant. A new constitution in 1969 emphasised Gibraltar’s UK allegiance, while giving greater internal self-government. Spain responded by closing the border and severing telephone and transport links. Gibraltar’s Spanish workforce were replaced by Moroccans. Gibraltar joined the European Community in 1973, under the terms of the Act of Accession.
The death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy in Spain was followed by the Lisbon Agreement in 1980 between the Spanish and British governments whereby the British government agreed to discuss the 1964 UN resolution. Spain reopened the border with Gibraltar in 1985 before it joined the European Community in January 1986. But Spanish restrictions on telecommunications were not lifted. Spain and the UK discussed various proposals for joint sovereignty over the Rock and reached agreement in 2002.
Another referendum organised in Gibraltar rejected the idea of joint sovereignty by 17,900 votes to 187. A further referendum in 2002 approved a draft new constitution which requires of the British government that it should ‘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’.
In 2004 the new Spanish government agreed that any settlement for the Rock must take the wishes of Gibraltarians into account. A tripartite forum was set up, but Gibraltarians considered this would not lead to satisfactory progress as neither the Spanish nor British governments officially recognized Gibraltar’s right to self-determination. In 2006 the British government approved Gibraltar’s new constitution Order and thus its right to self-determination.
In September 2006 the governments of Gibraltar, Spain and the UK agreed terms on the easing of restrictions on air transport, telecommunications and pensions, but did not resolve the issue of sovereignty.
Main languages: English, Spanish, Llanito, Arabic
Main religions: Christians 88% (Roman Catholics 78%, Anglicans 7%), Muslims 4%, Jews 2%, Hindus less than 2%
Population comprises 22,882 Gibraltarians (81.1%), other British nationals 2,627 (9.3%), Moroccans 961 (3.4%) and Jews 600. (data: 2001 census)
Most Gibraltarians speak and read both English and Spanish. There is also a local dialect, Llanito, a dialect of Andalusian Spanish strongly influenced by English that also incorporates some words native to neither.
Most Gibraltarians are registered as British citizens under the provisions for citizens of British overseas territories set out in the British Nationality Act 1981. Despite this and applying European Union laws, they were not allowed to vote in European Parliament elections until 2004, when a European Court of Justice ruling permitted this. Gibraltar is included in the South West of England constituency for the European Parliament elections, which take place using proportional representation.
The other category of nationality which applies to Gibraltarians is citizenship of a British overseas territory. This can be converted to full British citizenship by those who are Gibraltarian by birth or naturalization. A foreign citizen can apply for naturalization in Gibraltar after 25 years of residence or for children born in Gibraltar, on their 25th birthday.
The 1969 constitution Order is amended by the 2006 constitution Order, which guarantees the right to fundamental freedoms without discrimination by reason of race, place of origin, political opinions, or affiliations, colour, creed or sex. The 2006 constitution Order also guarantees Gibraltar’s right to self-determination.
It is almost impossible for the Moroccan community or other non-Gibraltarians to obtain nationality. They can apply after 25 years of residence, but very few have obtained nationality even so. Until 1986 no child of foreign parents was allowed to be born in Gibraltar; thus women returned to Morocco to give birth. From 1986 foreign children can be born in Gibraltar. But in 1992 the government launched the ‘Gibraltar first’ campaign of restrictions on Moroccans obtaining new work if they lost their original employment. The government provided incentives for these workers to return to Morocco. If they are unemployed for six months or more they can be deported. Also government policy now prevents family reunification. The result of these measures was that the community was reduced from 3,000 at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s to 961 in the 2001 census. Two thirds of the Moroccan community were men.
From 2000 when Spain joined the Schengen group of EU countries with open internal borders, Spanish restrictions increased on Moroccans and other third country citizens not already legitimized in another EU or Schengen country. The UK is not part of the Schengen group. Moroccans now have to obtain visas to enter Spain from the Spanish embassy in London, having first obtained a visa in Morocco to enter Britain.