On the 8th of June in 1969, General Francisco Franco, Caudillo of Spain, closed the Spanish Frontier with the British isle of Gibraltar.
The Spanish-Gibraltar border is a boundary between the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and Spain, also known as ‘La verja de Gibraltar’ (The fence of Gibraltar) or simply as The Fence.(1)
The Caudillo had chosen to close the border, which was not reopened until 1985, ten years after his death, as a response to the Gibraltar Constitution Order of 1969. The 1969 Constitution was the outcome of the Constitutional Conference chaired by Lord Shepherd which lasted from 16th to 24th July. The uniqueness of the agreed constitution lay in its division of powers. In most British colonial constitutions, the powers of the Governor are defined: the local government is responsible for all else. The reverse was to be the case in Gibraltar. The local government’s powers were defined in a ‘List of Defined Domestic Matters’ for which it was to be responsible but which excluded anything that might have a conceivable impact on the security of the fortress.
For the Gibraltarians, the most important aspect of the 1969 Constitution was the crucial preamble:
“Whereas Gibraltar is part of Her Majesty’s dominions and Her Majesty’s Government have given assurances to the people of Gibraltar that Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty’s dominions unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and furthermore 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”.(2)
The tiny British territory on Spain’s southern tip, which is home to some 32,000 people, depends on the small land border with Spain for much of its supplies and visitor flow, which meant that a closure of the Border between Spain and Gibraltar would cause considerable difficulty for Gibraltar’s local economy. Moreover, some 10,000 people also make the crossing to work daily from the Spanish region that surrounds Gibraltar called Campo de Gibraltar, which only had a negative impact on those citizens with the closure of the Frontier.
The isle of Gibraltar is still a controversial part of Britain’s imperialism, with the recent Brexit developments, as 96% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the European Union in 2016(3). But this is complicated by the fact that it is an ongoing feeling for Gibraltarians that they wish to remain with the UK, as evidenced by a number of referenda, such as the 1967 Referendum on Sovereignty, where 99.6% of voters wished to remain under British Sovereignty, reinforced by the second referendum of sovereignty of November 2002, where 99% of voters(4) voted against the Spanish sharing Sovereignty with the United Kingdom – therefore suggesting that they would prefer to be under British rule than Spanish rule. But whether they would still want to be an Overseas Territory of the UK when outside of the European Union is left to question, particularly if under Spanish Sovereignty they may remain in the EU – the clear desire from their referendum vote. This led to Spain proposing a second referendum for shared sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain, ensuring that Gibraltar remains a sovereign state of the UK but Great Britain has since accused Spain of trying to make a “land grab”(5), in light of the recent developments.
It is still unclear as to what the outcome of Brexit will be for the Island of Gibraltar, but it is hoped, by many, that the island will not be used as a “bargaining chip”, but, if nothing else, one can only hope it is in the best interest of the Gibraltarian people.