Explain the status of Gibraltar to me

In a table quiz last night, the answer to the question “How many countries border mainland Spain” was four, Portugal, France, Andorra and Gibraltar.

I was wondering about this answer. Should the answer have meant the UK and not Gibraltar. Gibraltar is described as a dependency, I was wondering what exactly this mean legally as its always been a bit confusing to me.

My understanding is that Gibraltar, like the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, is a Crown dependency, but not part of the United Kingdom: it ‘belongs’ to the British Crown separately. This is why it can have its own internet domain, money, etc, as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man do.

These domains accrued to the Crown through separate routes than the UK did. Channel Islands are the remnants of the mainland domains that William the Conqueror held before even invading England, and, legally, are completely separate from the UK. I’m not sure about the history of the Isle of Man, but I believe the Queen rules as the Lord (Lady?) of Mann there, not as Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I’m not sure at all about the details of Gibraltar.

I looked on Wikipedia: apparently it’s even more confusing than I thought.

I grew up in Gib - so happy to give some more background.

Gib has been a British Territory (dependency) since 1713 when it was ceeded forever by the Treaty of Utrect.

(From “The History of English Speaking Peoples” What is called the Treaty of Utrecht was in fact a series of separate agreements between individual allied states with France and with Spain. The French court recognised the Protestant succession in Britain, and ceded various territories in North America and the West Indies, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia. With Spain the terms were that England should hold Minorca and Gibraltar thus securing control of entry to the Mediterranean. The treaty was settled in Spring 1713)

The Spanish weren’t too chuffed about this treaty, and twice during the 18th century tried to re-take Gib - and failed. There was a more serious attempt during the American Revolution where France and Spain joined forces, this led to the ‘Great Siege’ of 1779 which lasted nearly 4 years.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars Gibraltar became a British garrison (in 1830) and was declared a British Crown Colony. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased Gibraltar’s strategic value to the Royal Navy and the Admiralty dockyard, with its 440 acre harbour protected by three moles, was constructed on land reclaimed from the sea in 1895-1905.

In 1908 (for various reasons including disease) a neutral zone was established between the two countries, which turned into a fence, which over time turned into a barricade, which turned into a border - complete with sentrys/gun towers etc. The Spanish Red Book, published in 1965 in answer to the British White Book (google is your friend), parallels the erection of the border fence to that constructed in Berlin by the Soviet/East German authorities. However, although the Gibraltar fence was improved during the Second World War and during the 1970s, the border always remained open at Four Corners, even throughout the Second World War, and upwards of 10,000 Spanish workers crossed daily into Gibraltar to work.

While the Spanish gates remain padlocked, the British gates, just twelve inches to the south remained symbolically open - the neutral ground having shrunk effectively to six inches. The closure of the border led to a twicedaily ceremony for the changing of the guard - on both sides of the fence - providing an additional tourist spectacle. The British parade was ‘low-profile’ with a small guard detail and bugler to 'sound off as the Union Jack was raised or lowered. By contrast, the Spanish ceremony was spectacular and noisy. A full band, with the musicians in combat fatigues, marched about a mile from the barracks in La Linea down the long road to the frontier. There both the band and the armed border guard stand to attention while the red and yellow flag was lowered to the strains of the Spanish National Anthem.

The Spanish authorities opened the frontier in 1985, (I was there!! My Dad was stationed in Gib - RAF) this has allowed Gibraltar’s trade and population to thrive. Its inhabitants live harmoniously in a peaceful and unique multi-cultural society. The daily activities of employment and business between Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbour La Linea grow with many Spaniards working in Gibraltar.

Today Gibraltar is a surviving part of the British Empire and a Crown Colony. This means they use the pound as currency, and are subject to British Law under a Gibraltarean Government.

The Foreign Office’s take on the subject.

Slight nitpick: The pound is indeed the currency but it is the Gibraltar Pound which is unusable and unexchangeable outside of Gibraltar. They also accept the Euro but if you’re not careful you may get pounds as change and be stuck with them if you don’t spend them before you leave.

good nitpick! You can spend UK pounds (sterling) there too.

Thanks, yingtong, and may I add “needle nardle noo.”

The Rock is full of mined tunnels (some 30 miles!) and galleries, going back to the earliest days of British residency; the military realized the value of using one of the greatest natural fortresses in the world for defensive works.


In WW2, special units of the Canadian Engineers worked there (very long, detailed and fascinating page):


Quote from the Canadian Tunneller’s page:


Thanks for the great write up, yingtongtiddleipo,
and welcome aboard.

For what’s it’s worth, Gibraltar has had a couple of referendums in the past about whether they should rejoin Spain or remain “part” of the United Kingdom… And (as a political science major), I found the results fascinating… For example, the results for the 2002 referendum were:

Stay with the UK - 17,900
Go with Spain - 187

It’s hard to believe the results could be so lopsided in a free society… but there you are. It’s especially interesting given that most of those votes are by people that are ethnically Spanish, not British… I mean, it would make more sense if Gib was 99% of British ethnicity, but that’s not the case…

Another interesting detail is the Barbary apes on Gibraltar. It is actually a monkey, not an ape, specifically, a species of macaque, and the ones on Gibraltar are the only wild population of monkeys in Europe. The population was under the care of the British army for most of the 20th century, and the British sometimes added adequate management of the ecologically vulnerable monkeys to the list of reasons why they should keep Gibraltar.

From the Wiki article on the Barbary Macaque:

So, where does Canada fit into that whole tangled mess?

Former colony, now a Commonwealth Realm: an independednt nation which happens for historical and sentimental reasons to be part of the Commonwealth and have the Queen as head of state.

[Bolding mine]

Gibraltarians are much more of a mixed bag than that. The original ‘ethnically Spanish’ inhabitants were pushed out when the Brits occupied the Rock back in 1704. The refugees settled in the nearby town of San Roque, which to this day has a sign at the town’s entrance saying: San Roque, donde reside la [ciudad] de Gibraltar – ‘San Roque, where the city of Gibraltar resides’.

Modern day Gibraltarians are descended from the following potpourri of nations, which I list in rough order:

Genoese, Spanish, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Portuguese, Maltese, Indian, Moroccan and Jewish, and some others.

Granted, many if not most Gibraltarians have Spanish blood, but if anything, those are the ones who resent Spain the most, for they were the ones who suffered greatest when the frontier was closed (1968-1985). They were the ones who were forcibly separated from their relatives on the other side, and I know people like this, Spanish born, who to this day will not have anything to do with Spain for this reason.

The reason that the almost universal distrust of Spain has pervaded despite almost thirty years having past since Franco’s death and the easing of the border restrictions is that the Spanish missed an opportunity to court the Gibraltarians into realising that post Franco Spain is not the same, and thus moving towards some sort of post-colonial situation acceptable to the Gibraltarians, but they didn’t. Although they relaxed the frontier restrictions and eventually reopened it, they maintained a tough stance on the Gibraltar issue, reiterating the Spanish claim and driving the Gibraltarians into a defensive position verging on the jingoistic.

There are a few lone voices in Gibraltar who speak out against this attitude, but these are not popular views to hold.

Having said all that, Gibraltarians and Spaniards get on very well on a personal level. The resentment is largely against the Spanish central government and the Gib government enjoys good relations with the local Spanish authorities at municipal and provincial level.

I personally have never experienced hostility from a Spaniard for being from Gibraltar, in fact, the opposite is usually the case. Neither do Gibraltarians, even the most anti-Spanish ones, translate their political views into hostility towards Spanish people.

Part of the problem is that Gibraltarians want to have their cake and eat it. They know that under the terms of the treaty of Utrecht (1713) that Spain has first refusal should Britain decide to up and leave, so they have to maintain a façade of loyalty to Britain, while in reality most would like Gibraltar to be independent. Being Spanish is not considered to be an option, for the reasons given above combined with generations of brainwashing that being British is superior to Spanish.

P.S. Forgot to say - hey, yingtong, good to see another ‘Llanito’ (of sorts) here! Thanks for providing such good information too!

Just to add to **Sunspace’s ** point: Elizabeth Windsor is the Queen of Canada in addition to Queen of the U.K, Australia, etc. She wears several different crowns simultaneously, but only takes advice on Canadian affairs from her Canadian government, on British affairs from her British government, and so on.