House of Lords Library

Leaving the European Union: Status of Gibraltar

Published Tuesday, May 2, 2017

This House of Lords Library briefing provides background on the government, economy and society of Gibraltar, its historical status, and information on recent debates concerning its sovereignty following the result of the 2016 EU referendum.

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Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. In 2012 it had a usually-resident population of 32,194, and most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish. Gibraltarians were granted full British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981. Gibraltar is not a member of the Commonwealth, although it was granted Associate Membership of the Commonwealth Foundation in 2014. Gibraltar is part of the European Union, having joined with the United Kingdom in 1973, although it is not part of the EU customs union or common agricultural policy. In the 2016 EU referendum, 96 percent of voters in Gibraltar–19,300–voted to Remain, the highest proportion of any electoral district. Four percent, or 823, voted to Leave.

Since the EU referendum, the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty has assumed a renewed prominence. On 31 March 2017, the European Council released its draft Brexit negotiating guidelines to member states, in which Gibraltar is specifically mentioned in paragraph 22:

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.

According to some commentators, this may mean any Brexit deal will not apply automatically to Gibraltar, and give Spain veto power over the inclusion of Gibraltar in any Brexit deal without an additional Anglo-Spanish bilateral deal concerning the territory. The Government of Gibraltar has reacted to this clause by stating that whilst it intended to continue as planned, “Gibraltar has shamefully been singled out […] for unfavourable treatment by the Council, at the behest of Spain”. Other commentators noted this inclusion may have little importance, as all EU governments have the power to veto any agreement with the UK, yet it showed clear EU political loyalty to Spain, and a senior EU official said “the Union will stick up for its members, and that means Spain now”.

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House of Lords Library

The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.