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The Government of Gibraltar called a referendum on 7 November 2002 to establish the popular support for a proposal to share sovereignty of the territory with Spain. The result was a massive rejection of the concept.



A poster from the campaign

Although Gibraltar was ceded to the British Crown under Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Spain has wished to recover the territory, first by force and then by restrictions and diplomacy. Recovering sovereignty remains a stated objective of successive Spanish Governments. Within the framework established by the Brussels Process, secret talks between the UK and Spain culminated in 2002 with an announcement by Jack Straw in the Houses of Parliament that both countries had agreed to share sovereignty over the territory.

The question

The Gibraltar referendum asked the people of Gibraltar their opinion in the following words:

On the 12th July 2002 the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in a formal statement in the House of Commons, said that after twelve months of negotiation the British Government and Spain are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement of Spain's sovereignty claim, which included the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar.
Do you approve of the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar?[1]

Voting and the result

The actual voting was as follows: 18176 voted representing 87.9% of the electorate. There were 89 papers spoilt of which 72 were blank. Of the 18,087 valid ballots 187 voted YES, and 17,900 voted NO.[2]

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar speaking on the result stated that:

A clear message had been sent to the world, and that a democratic politician at his own peril describes this result as irrelevant. ... The result is one of democracy at work in its purest form. ... The vote is the result of the will of the people of Gibraltar and that the concept of "joint sovereignty" is a dead end.

International observers

In order to ensure that the referendum was conducted fairly and that its result could not be dismissed, the Government of Gibraltar invited a panel of distinguished observers headed up by Gerald Kaufman, MP.

Their published report confirmed that:

The observers were extremely impressed with the organisation of the referendum and particularly welcome that the role of the observers was integral to the process, as distinct from the more passive role of observers in other elections. The meticulous way in which votes were counted exceeded requirements and went beyond requirements adopted for UK elections.[3]


Reaction in the Spanish media was hostile, with El País commenting that:

No Spanish Government, neither this one or its predecessors, has done enough to make joint sovereignty or integration with Spain an attractive prospect.[4]

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ana Palacio described the referendum as "illegal" and "against all the UN resolutions".[5]

For his part Jack Straw described the decision of the Government of Gibraltar to hold its own referendum on the prospect of shared sovereignty with Spain as "eccentric".

However, as a direct result of the views expressed in the referendum and the associated campaign, there was no further discussion on the subject of shared sovereignty.

Final effects

In his evidence to the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee in 2008, Jim Murphy MP, Minister of State for Europe, stated:

The UK Government will never — "never" is a seldom-used word in politics — enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people. In fact, we will never even enter into a process without that agreement. The word "never" sends a substantial and clear commitment and has been used for a purpose. We have delivered that message with confidence to the peoples and the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain. It is a sign of the maturity of our relationship now that that is accepted as the UK's position.[6]




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