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The Sovereignty of Gibraltar - A Historical Perspective

Posted on 8th August 2013

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There has been a lot of fuss going on recently about Gibraltar: diplomatic rows, shots fired by a Spanish ship, delays at the border crossings due to additional border checks, and threats of a €50 charge for crossing the border.

The most recent (of many) BBC news story is here, and the story contains links to older stories.

This story contains a mini-overview of the history of Gibraltar:

  • "How long-running is the dispute over Gibraltar?
  • Extremely. The Rock has been fought over for centuries. First Spain battled Moorish invaders. Then it lost Gibraltar to an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704. The Spanish, despite formally ceding it to London in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, have wanted it back ever since. Under Franco, Spain cut Gibraltar off by sealing its frontier."

This article gives rather more detail about the history of Gibraltar. To summarise:

  1. Before 711 AD, Gibraltar was variously occupied by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians the Romans, the Vandals, and the Visigoths; so, not Spanish (Spain didn't exist as a nation in those days anyway).
  2. With the Islamic conquest of Iberia in 711 AD, Gibraltar became a possession of the Moors, so also not Spanish.
  3. In 1462, Gibraltar was captured by Juan Alonso de Guzmán, 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia, so finally arguably Spanish (in 1469, the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by marriage, officially marking the founding of Spain as a nation - Spain was not properly unified into a single kingdom until the 18th century). During the time that Gibraltar was Spanish, Spain was fighting all over Europe, annexing or defending territory, including trying to invade England (the Spanish Armada); apparently all of that was perfectly fair, except if Spain lost.
  4. In 1704 a combined Anglo-Dutch force captured the town of Gibraltar, Under the terms of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in perpetuity. The Spanish still claim that Gibraltar is theirs, despite having signed it away in 1713.

So, Gibraltar was Moorish for 751 years, "Spanish" for 251 years, and since then has been British for 300 years. It was lost by Spain through military action, fair and square, in a time when such territorial conflict was normal between nations, and Spain negotiated and signed away Gibraltar. I do not understand how they expect their territorial claims to be taken seriously. Perhaps Spain might instead consider agreeing with Britain that Gibraltar be given to an Islamic state, as the successor to the Moors?