The British took Gibraltar in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession and held against Spanish efforts to reconquer it. It passed to formal British control in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Gibraltar's population is a melting pot of descendants of immigrants from all over the Mediterranean. Virtually all are bilingual in English and Spanish.
Over the centuries, Gibraltar remained an important base for Royal Navy units operating in the Mediterranean. During World War II the British evacuated its entire civilian population except for some 3,000 adult males involved in essential work. The evacuees were returned to Gibraltar during 1946–1947.
The Spanish government has repeatedly sought to secure control of the Rock, while successive British governments have vowed to retain control. Public opinion in Gibraltar has been almost unanimous in its opposition to a return to Spain. A 1967 referendum rejected such a course. To bring pressure on Britain, during 1969–1985 Spain closed its land border to the colony and carried out an economic blockade, cutting off the supply of cheap Spanish labor. This backfired, feeding Gibraltarian nationalism.
In 1969, London granted Gibraltar internal autonomy. There is an elected House of Assembly of fifteen popularly elected members. London, however, retains control over foreign affairs.
After 1985, the inhabitants of the Rock were wary over British intentions, a concern reinforced later in the decade by London's refusal to grant British citizenship to Hong Kong residents and Britain's military retrenchment around the globe. By 1991, Britain had little more than 1,000 troops stationed there.
Such British actions prompted Gibraltarians to demand greater political and economic autonomy from Britain. Any movement toward independence was tempered by the awareness that Spain would reject such an arrangement and that Britain would be unwilling to support it militarily.
Gibraltar enjoys special status in the European Community (EC) as a recognized part but not an individual member. This status has allowed it to avoid the tariffs and sales taxes of other member nations. When Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, Gibraltar was not required to make tax contributions to the EC or follow its customs regulations. Gibraltar was also allowed to write its own banking laws.
Gibraltar reorganized a money-losing shipyard inherited from Great Britain. Tourism is another major industry. Each year millions of visitors come to the Rock, many of them to buy duty-free goods without value-added taxes. A banking secrecy law guarantees confidentiality, although numbered accounts are prohibited. Rapid economic growth enabled Gibraltar to provide excellent social benefits.
By the 1990s inhabitants of the Rock saw themselves first as Gibraltarians and only secondly as Britons. Their principal political challenge remained keeping the Rock free of Spanish control.
Spencer C. Tucker and Elizabeth Pugliese
Dennis, Philip. Gibraltar and Its People. Newton Abbot, UK: David and Charles, 1990.; Jackson, William G. F. The Rock of the Gibraltarians: A History of Gibraltar. 3rd ed. Grendon, UK: Gibraltar Books, 1990.; Morris, D. S., and Robert H. Haigh. Britain, Spain, and Gibraltar, 1945–1990: The Eternal Triangle. New York: Routledge, 1992.; Shields, Graham J. Gibraltar. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1987.