Politics of the Rock

May 11, 2017

The view that Spain ceded sovereignty over Gibraltar to the UK in 1713 is far from “tendentious”, and certainly not a “howler” (“In response: Gibraltar, universities and the EU”, Blogs, 2 May). Most academic analyses of the Treaty of Utrecht, including the entry on Gibraltar in the highly authoritative Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, support this interpretation.

The view advanced by Felipe Fernández-Armesto in his blog post is that mere property rights, short of sovereignty, were ceded under the treaty. This interpretation enjoys hardly any support outside Spain, and opinion among leading Spanish scholars of international law is divided.

In 1966, the UK proposed that the matter be settled by the International Court of Justice. Spain rejected the offer, arguing before the United Nations that the “problem of Gibraltar was essentially a political one”.

In praising the “extraordinary magnanimity” of Spain’s proposal to share sovereignty over Gibraltar with the UK, Fernández-Armesto implies that Spain has a good claim to full sovereignty. It does not.

This is why the Spanish government eschews the option of judicial settlement and resorts instead to political methods, designed to pressure the Gibraltarians into accepting a change in sovereignty that they do not want.

Jamie Trinidad
Fellow and tutor
Wolfson College, Cambridge
Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

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