For those of our visitors who know little about Gibraltar, where it is, its importance, and what happened to bring about a kind of Falkland Islands/Argentina, Hong Kong/China (now resolved), Formosa/China situation here is a brief resumé:
Gibraltar is a rocky headland and fortified town which dominates the narrow passage from The Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This passage is only a few miles long, but has caused trouble since 1704.
Gibraltar is not a colony. It is a ‘dependency’ with its own Parliament, Laws and Prime Minister. In 711, the Rock (a huge sandstone semi-mountain, with a precipitous eastern face) was captured and fortified by the Moors, who named it Jabal al-Tariq (Mount of Tariq). During the many centuries of Spanish wars of liberation from the Moorish occupation of two thirds of their country, they (the Spanish) re-conqueredGibraltar in 1462. Everything stayed comparatively peacful until the Wars of the Spanish Succession (q.v.). In 1704 Sir George Rooke, commander of a big Anglo/Dutch fleet took the surrender of the Rock, and later this piece of wartime booty was ratified in the Treaty of Utrecht, signed officially by all those in authority, including of course representatives of the King and Government of Spain.
Naturally,Spain made repeated attempts to recover Gibraltar, as it did not and does not seem natural that a piece of Spanish land should belong to a foreign country. The Spanish, a nation of fiercely patriotic people (or at least until recently) have always found the Treaty of Utrecht unbearable, unfair and debatable. But the British hung on to the Rock because of its strategic importance, guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean.
In 1779 the Rock managed to repel a long siege made by Franco/Spanish forces; during both World Wars Gibraltar was important to the Allies as a naval base. The population which is tiny is a mixture of Spanish, Italian, Maltese and Portuguese, and are know as Gibraltareños. They are British passport holders.
General Franco closed Spain’s borders with Gibraltar (which he knew as El Peñon) in 1969, making commerce and family connections between Gibraltar and the rest of Spain difficult if not impossible. After an Agreement was reached in 1984, the borders were re-opened in 1985. Britain maintained ships of war including submarines there. At least two of the submarines were nuclear and in need of repair, which infuriated the Spanish people. Presidents of the Government can always be relied upon to be fierce about Gibraltar, because of the votes gained. British ground forces (but not the Navy) were withdrawn from Gibraltar in 1991. In a number of referendums, Gibraltareños have said they prefer allegiance to Britain, not Spain.
A ‘dependency’ is an independently governed state which will be defended by another, more powerful state of which it is not geographically a part in case of attack. Mozambique was never ruled by Britain, but is part of The Commonwealth of Nations. Burma (Myanmar) and Ireland have left the Commonwealth. Pakistan left and then re-joined. South Africa left, and then was re-admitted. Fiji left and then re-joined. Cameroonwas accepted in 1995.
Prime Minister David Cameron and his Foreign Secretary William Hague have a serious and perhaps unsolvable problem. If laws are passed giving back to Spain her own territory (Gibraltar), what is to be done with the population? Can places be found for them within the Commonwealth, or in Britain herself? Would they be accepted in Malta, not so very far away? Turkey and Greece will not agree to have them in Cyprus. There is room for them in Israel, but Gibraltar is predominately Catholic. The United Nations has been set a task by Mariano Rajoy, who will obviously return to the fray as often as he finds necessary.