Everything You Wanted To Know About Gibraltar (But Were Afraid To Ask)

This stuff is getting important now, so you ought to know this. The history of the disputed rock. Featuring cute monkeys.

1. So people are talking a lot about Gibraltar.

Yes they are, cute wistful monkey. In fact, it’s become a Europe-wide controversy, bringing in the European Union, the Prime Ministers of the UK and Spain, and around 30,000 Gibraltarians trying to go about their daily lives.

2. And fish?

Yes! (And feel free to rub that fish: he likes it.) Essentially, on 24 July 70 concrete blocks were dumped into the bay between Gibraltar and Spain by authorities.

The Gibraltarian government say they had to drop the concrete blocks – an artificial reef – in the water to protect fish stocks in what they class as their waters.

Spanish fishermen say that the blocks hinder their fishing (claiming it has lost them €1.5m-worth of income since they were sunk), and besides, the water’s actually Spanish.

3. Wait, it’s Spanish?!

According to this guy, kinda. This is Mariano Rajoy, the current Prime Minister of Spain. He’s head of the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and as such, is staunchly nationalist. That includes claiming Gibraltar as Spanish territory, and its surrounding waters as Spanish.

4. The problem is that the history doesn’t really back Rajoy up.

Gibraltar is one of 14 British overseas territories, and has been for a while. British soldiers seized Gibraltar in August 1704, and nine years later a whole treaty was signed that covered - amongst other places - Gibraltar.

That treaty, signed in 1713 in Utrecht, divvied out many formerly Spanish territories to other countries. Legally. Don’t believe it? Check this out…

5. Article X of the 1713 Utrecht Treaty between Spain and Great Britain


The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.

6. See?

Regardless, some people don’t see it that way. Not least the Spanish fishermen who are losing their catch and cash.

On Sunday about 40 of them decided to protest by sailing their trawlers and fishing boats into the disputed territory, where they were rebuffed by British and Gibraltarian police and military. The fishermen were shouting “Gibraltar is Spanish” while moving into the waters.

7. This guy had something to say about that.

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s First Minister, was less than diplomatic when he heard of the Spanish fishermen’s claims to the waters.

“Hell will freeze over,” Picardo said, before Gibraltar becomes Spanish.

8. Sounds dangerous.

Well, quite. There’s unlikely to be a full-blown war, but the rhetoric has been rising. And what’s crazy is that Gibraltar is a 2.6 square mile rock in the Mediterranean. Which is tiny.

For both sides, it’s more about the principle of the thing.

9. I keep hearing about a ship being sent there.

Well yes. The ship’s actually HMS Westminster, a type 23 frigate. (Frigate’s a naval word for warship.) And though it had been scheduled to sail to the region for a while, the timing of its deployment couldn’t have come at a more awkward time.

10. And there’s some stuff about cars?

Yeah, so because both countries are unlikely to come to blows, they’re instead fighting a war of inconvenience. Spanish thinking goes that the concrete barriers were dropped underwater to harm Spanish fishing. So Spain’s going to make things difficult for Gibraltarians and Britain.

They’re going to create a huge traffic jam.

11. Spain’s threatening to instigate a €50 crossing tax, and has increased border checks.

“The party is over,” Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said last week. Travellers - including Spanish people who work in Gibraltar - have been caught up in huge border delays of up to eight hours in the past couple of weeks. It says it’s trying to stop illegal tobacco smuggling.

Britain says it’s simply a Spanish attempt to leverage control over the area, and they won’t give in. European Union officials have been sent to the border to investigate the legality of the heightened security, and Jose Manuel Barroso, EU commissioner, has warned that the threatened border tax would be illegal.

12. So why do I care about all this?

Well, if you believe that Gibraltar is a British soverignty (as 98.48% of those living on the island did when asked in 2002), then you care because it’s going against those people’s wills.

But you also should care because Spanish and Gibraltarian people are having their lives disrupted, being asked to pay to cross borders and wasting hours in traffic jams caused by significant checks on vehicles.

13. And cute monkeys.

Gibraltar is home to the world’s only thriving group of Barbary macaques. There are 300 of them living there, and legend goes that as long as they exist on the island, Britain will have rule over Gibraltar.

14. And they’re getting bored of the arguments.

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