Where Does Gibraltar Stand? United Kingdom – Spain Negotiations


Gibraltar is a British colony on Spanish territory, with 32,000 citizens living in 6.7 km. The territory has faced the struggle of maintaining its sovereignty for 300 years. On December 14, a meeting to discuss, once again, the standing of Gibraltar was convened. A new proposal was made by Spain. The Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs said, “the Spanish and British governments agreed to make progress as fast as possible in ironing out their differences over visa-free travel between people from British-owned Gibraltar and the Schengen Area.” The Schengen Area is composed of 27 countries in Europe that allow travel without passports or border controls. With this new proposal, centuries of quarreling could quiet down in the years to come. 

Is Gibraltar part of Spain or the United Kingdom? 

Even though Gibraltar is located in the Iberian peninsula, it is a British overseas territory. The answer as to who the enclave belongs to was thought to have been settled after Gibraltar was seized during the War of Spanish Succession by the British troops. Nonetheless, tension remained throughout the years of Gibraltar being invaded. To the surprise of many, no action has been taken to this day. Instead, it has been a constant tug of war in which Spain and the United Kingdom both argue that Gibraltar should be under their control. 

Gibraltar was first acquired by the Kingdom of Castile and then became part of the Spanish empire. It remained this way from 1492 to 1712. It then became a British possession when the War of Spanish Succession concluded and the Treaty of Utrecht was signed (1713). However, both Spain and the UK claimed sovereignty over the territory, and a long chain of disputes was set in motion. One example of a territory that is disputed is the 800-meter area of Isthmus, which Spain claimed to have never ceded but still forms part of Gibraltar. 

Who makes decisions in Gibraltar? 

Gibraltar is one of the 14 British overseas territories with internal self-government which allows them to have their own parliament. Nevertheless, in regard to defense, the British government is the one to make decisions. As for heads of state, they answer to the British crown, currently King Charles III. Moreover, the king is represented by the governor in Gibraltar. This follows its 2006 constitution, where it was set that for foreign policy, the British government would be the one to act. 

When it became British territory, any act, decision, or law that concerned the United Kingdom, also concerned Gibraltar. It must also be highlighted that Gibraltar is of special relevance since it is the only territory out of the 14 territories that is in Europe. When the UK joined the European Union, Gibraltar, therefore, did as well. It joined the European Community with the European Communities Act in 1972. Consequently, when Brexit took place, the question remained as to how the free movement of goods and services between Gibraltar and other countries would be conducted. 

How would the UK address its relationships with Gibraltar and the rest of Europe? 

One of the biggest questions that arose was: how would free movement and border control be approached? Negotiations officially started in 2020, but then were delayed by the pandemic, the Ukraine-Russian war, and ultimately the two changes of prime ministers in the UK. It should be mentioned that while these Spanish negotiations are going on, there have also been conferences held in Brussels to discuss the post-Brexit relationship between Gibraltar and the EU. On one hand, there is the Gibraltar-Spain issue, and on the other the relationship between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU. 

On November 25, Spain proposed for Gibraltar to become an area of shared prosperity to benefit the citizens and workers that inhabit the territory. After Brexit, the citizens of Gibraltar were left in an unsuspecting state, and since then, officials have been meeting to discuss what the next steps entail. These meetings have been more frequent recently. Overall, the UK and Spain have made “significant progress” in talks over an agreement to secure Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU. 

Hopeful times to come 

With its long history, officials hope that with this proposal there will finally be somewhat of a stable relationship between Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar. The commitment of both countries is needed to sign this new agreement but hopes are high. As José Manuel Albares said, “[the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs] [is] fully invested in agreeing on a deal as soon as possible.” He expressed confidence that it is possible “to agree on a treaty that protects our respective positions on sovereignty.”  This could be considered the greatest advance yet by respecting all party’s positions and objectives. So will the waters finally calm at the meeting point of the Mediterranean and Atlantic? 

Featured image by: BBC

Gabriela Gorodi
Gabriela Gorodi
Hey! I´m Gaby, I am a third-year law and international relations student with a passion for writing. My interests go from writing about international conflict to issues closer to our daily life that may be of interest. I was born in Spain however I grew up abroad and love learning about different cultures, traditions, and countries. Everyone has a story to share and I think that's pretty unique.

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