What if Gibraltar uses its 'third option' and integrates with the UK?

Since the news that Spain can veto any Brexit deal involving Gibraltar, a solution has been suggested to overcome this hurdle by making ‘the Rock’ an integral part of the United Kingdom, rather than the Overseas Territory it currently is.


Daniel Owen Spence

7/5/20173 min read

Since the news that Spain can veto any Brexit deal involving Gibraltar, a solution has been suggested to overcome this hurdle by making ‘the Rock’ an integral part of the United Kingdom, rather than the Overseas Territory it currently is.

This is not the first time such an idea has been mooted. The 1950s and 60s were a time when the British Government was desperately trying to unload itself of its imperial baggage which had become too heavy a financial burden and political headache for the metropole. Transferring sovereignty to nationalist movements who wanted their independence was one thing, but dealing with those that wished to continue or develop their colonial association was another. This was tested in February 1956 when Malta held a referendum on integration with the UK. This would have given Malta three seats in the House of Commons, made it administered by the Home Office rather than the Colonial Office, the UK would have retained control over defence and foreign affairs, with the addition of direct taxation, while Malta would maintain responsibility for local issues such as education. While 77% voted in favour of the proposals, only 60% of the electorate turned out after a boycott by the Nationalist Party, too narrow a mandate to press the issue in the face of opposition from the Archbishop and the Constitutionalist Party who wanted guarantees for Malta’s Catholics. British Members of Parliament raised concerns about setting a precedent for other colonies, while the island’s declining importance as a naval base saw the Admiralty dismiss 40 workers from its dockyard, leading Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff to announce in 1958 that ‘representatives of the Maltese people in Parliament declare that they are no longer bound by agreements and obligations toward the British government’. Mintoff resigned, and Giorgio Borg Olivier formed an alternative government which pursued independence and was granted it in 1964.

But this would not deter similar proposals for Gibraltar as, in 1963, the Integration With Britain Movement was formed. This was followed four years later by the establishment of the Integration With Britain Party (IWBP), which called for full integration with the UK and the election of MPs to Westminster. Following Gibraltar’s 1969 elections, despite coming second, the IWBP was able to form a coalition government with the third-place Isola Group. This lasted until June 1972, and the IWBP lost the subsequent election. A further blow came in 1975 when British Foreign Office Minister Roy Hattersley, announced that integration could not be accepted by the UK Government. Gibraltar sent a Constitution Committee delegation to London in June the following year to discuss this, but were unable to convince the UK which issued a memorandum rejecting the proposals. Consequently, the IWBP was dissolved before the 1976 election.

The integration idea has periodically bubbled back up to the surface during the intervening period. The UK is under perpetual pressure from the United Nations’ Committee on Decolonization, as ten of its Overseas Territories remain on the UN list to be decolonised, including Gibraltar. For the most part, Britain’s long-time imperial counterpart, France, has been able to avoid similar scrutiny because it pursued a policy of integration by making several former colonies ‘Overseas Departments’, integral parts of France that have representation in the National Assembly, Senate, and Economic and Social Council. A similar arrangement would theoretically remove Gibraltar from the UN list under its ‘third option’ for self-government – ‘Integration with an independent State’. In the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell suggested pursuing this avenue by giving Gibraltar a Member in Westminster, however, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo declared that this was ‘a huge backward step’ which would be nothing more than his fall-back position; though if a gun was put to his head containing a ‘Spanish sovereignty’ bullet and an ‘integration’ bullet, he’d prefer to be shot by the latter. Spain’s manoeuvring shows that her finger is on that trigger…

Should it come to this, integration terms would have to be negotiated, and they would not necessarily follow previous plans drawn up for an earlier age, especially concerning the clause of direct taxation, as Gibraltar’s offshore financial industry depends upon it retaining control over this vital part of its economy. To allow Gibraltar this economic freedom alongside representation in Westminster would spur calls for the devolution of tax control to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Considering this, a more appropriate relationship could be to replicate that of the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, whose economies are much more similar. Though this would not be full integration, it would allow Gibraltar to continue to govern its own affairs under the monarch, save for foreign relations and defence, with the least political upheaval (its Governor becoming the Lieutenant Governor). It would also counter Spain’s veto, as any Brexit deal should automatically cover the other Crown Dependencies, preserving Gibraltar’s self-determination and allowing the UK Government to negotiate an agreement that suits all parts of Britain.