From 1967
 Part II

By Dominique Searle

Over the first six months of last year a Downing Street official called JR Green and one of his colleagues poured over documents from late 1966 and 1967 relating specifically to Gibraltar. In some places whole documents were removed either to be retained or destroyed, in others certain paragraphs were covered up. Would they have shocked Gibraltar or Spain today? Some of us may never find out.

There are staggering parallels between today's politics and the mood of 1966. Would it be integration, should we sit down with Spain, could we take a middle course, the history of interests v wishes, what does self-determination mean, what does decolonisation mean? In the plethora of documents that did make it through the censors emerges a moment in history which will stagger many local observers. Most dramatic, the fact that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was persuaded against his own view. He was inclined to a solution that would outwit Utrecht - integration with Britain.

At the time the merger that produced the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not take place. The backdrop, well detailed by historians like Dr Joseph Garcia and Sir William Jackson, needs to be sketched. What better than to draw from a confidential Foreign Office paper prepared for Downing Street. 1964: a resolution adopted by the Committee of 24 recognises a dispute over Gibraltar. Spain responds with restrictions which intensify in 1965. 1966: May sees Castiella making his proposals after a long legal and historical submission on the claim. It proposes Gibraltar reverts to Spain, a military bases co-ordinated with Spain or the free world, a regime to protect inhabitants of the Rock with a personal statute to preserve British citizenship. Britain asks for these to be kept confidential but they are published.

Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart replies saying that these proposals would be easier to approach with confidence if the ordinary human feelings of Gibraltarians were regarded by a lifting of restrictions. July sees Britain reply with proposals which are largely known: demolition of the frontier fence, a Spanish Commissioner in Gibraltar, a formal undertaking by Britain to inform the Spanish Government and receive its views before decisions are reached on any changes in the constitutional position of Gibraltar, a reaffirmation of the Utrecht first choice to Spain clause, a downgrading of Gibraltar's political institutions to municipal functions retaining the elective principle, an agreement on tackling smuggling and agreement to allow the Spanish aircraft to make use of military and other facilities in Gibraltar.

Spain did not accept (it called them a "waste of time" that September) and instead introduced ban on British military aircraft overflying Spain. It was not interested in use of the facilities but was prepared to accept most proposals if the frontier were demolished and Spain were allowed to re-establish sovereignty over the isthmus as a start to moving towards the original Spanish proposals. Britain regarded this as nothing more that Spain repeating its proposals and attaching some of the British ones to the reply. October 5 1966, two days after talks are announced, Spain downgrades the frontier post and stops vehicles. Britain protests but continues with the talks. Britain proposes referring the problems to the International Court of Justice.

November 17 the UN Committee of 24 calls on Britain and Spain to refrain from acts that may hamper negotiations regretting the delay in "decolonisation". Spain now called the military use of the airport an "aggression". The Foreign Office analysis of the internal situation in Gibraltar is also relevant. Its report notes that
In internal affairs the Constitution falls well short of full internal self-government because of the Governor's reserved executive and legislative powers and the presence of the non-elected members in the Gibraltar Council.
It goes on to note that Gibraltar is small and close and easy personal relations means it has been unnecessary to
emphasise constitutional niceties.


Later the report notes on the attitude of Gibraltarians:
Their present vehemently expressed wish is to stay British and they talk freely of willingness to sustain a siege if necessary - of course with British financial assistance. Their loyalty and the sincerity of most of them is unquestioned. But it cannot be denied that in the long run, the Gibraltarians can only live a full and happy life if there is a reasonable modus vivendi with Spain and the frontier is open. If the restrictions are maintained, there will be pressure for immigration to the UK. Sir Joshua Hassan seems to recognise that an ultimate settlement with Spain is necessary in the best interests of Gibraltar.

The note on self-determination is equally informative:
The people of Gibraltar and their leaders naturally consider that they should have a decisive voice in the decision about their future. But to hand the decision over to them would (we are advised) amount to a breach of the Treaty of Utrecht under which the Spaniards have first refusal if the British should ever relinquish sovereignty. Also we have informed the Spaniards that we have no intention of bringing the Gibraltarians in as a third party into negotiations.

It is at this point in time that the Prime Minister's thinking clearly emerges. With British public opinion strongly against a fascist Spain, top British officials are clearly concerned about the view.


Michael Palliser, then Wilson's top official at No10, receives a letter from AP Cumming - Bruce of the Colonial Office dated November 23 1966 which refer to an exchange of correspondence in October between officials
about the Prime Minister's wish for some further study of the possibility of integrating Gibraltar with the United Kingdom.

Cumming Bruce continues:
I understand that the summary of our preliminary views enclosed with Godden's letter was found useful by the Prime Minister. Before we had time to take the matter any further, events were to some extent overtaken by the general discussion of Gibraltar which took place in the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee on 28th October, followed by the Colonial Secretary's visit to Gibraltar.

The Committee concluded that our present policy about Gibraltar should be without prejudice to the possibility at a later stage of moving towards agreement with Spain on something like the Spanish proposals, which, while politically unacceptable at present, might in the long term provide the best solution. The minutes record that the Prime Minister, in summing up, went on to say that "we should therefore avoid action now which would subsequently make a solution along these lines more difficult of attainment."

Cumming-Bruce continues:
There can be no doubt that integration would tie our hands in a way which would make it more difficult to move towards a solution on the lines discussed by the OPD Committee. The reasons for this were summarised in paragraph 8 of the memorandum by the Foreign Secretary which the Committee had before them at the meeting. In fact, it would be as difficult ever to part with an integrated Gibraltar as it would be to part with (say) the Scilly Isles!

The Prime Minister will also no doubt be aware that, in the Gibraltar debate in the House of Commons on 10th November, the Opposition Front Bench spokesman did not take up the integration issue; the Governor told us in confidence beforehand that Maudling had evidently decided not to do so in the light of his impressions on his recent visit there. As stated in paragraph 7 of the note enclosed with Godden's letter of 18th October, the present Gibraltar Ministers have come out firmly against the Pro-Integrationist Movement; and during his own visit the Secretary of State had abundant opportunity to confirm that Sir Joshua Hassan enjoys the full confidence of then Gibraltar electorate.

Taking into account the OPD conclusions and the evident absence of serious political pressure for integration, we wonder whether in all the circumstances a further detailed study of the possibility of integrating Gibraltar is still needed or whether we might take it that for the present the Prime Minister's requirements can be considered to have been met by the note enclosed with Godden's letter of 18th October?


There is little doubt that Wilson, when in Gibraltar had given local integrationists the feeling that he was sympathetic. But the fact is that in this period he was clearly seriously minded towards the idea, perhaps to an extent greater than many could have imagined. In a debate that lives on, the view of long term thinkers was clearly divided between those who wanted distance with Spain and those who believed that Gibraltar's future would inevitably be entwined in a relationship that recognised the proximity of Spain.


Mediterranean: Harold Wilson and Ian Smith open talks on Rhodesia aboard the cruiser, HMS Tiger.
Harold Wilson and Ian Smith reach partial "agreement" on the settlement of the Rhodesian crisis.
Gibraltar: Talks to resolve the dispute over Rhodesian UDI break down.

December 1966: It was the month that the US, under media pressure, admitted killing civilians in Vietnam, Walt Disney died and Gibraltar, caught in its own drama and Wilson's attempt to fight apartheid, found itself centre stage - the host of the Smith-Wilson encounter.

HMS Tiger provided an opportunity to touch base with Gibraltar leaders. This was a Gibraltar in which Sir Joshua Hassan and Peter Isola ruled the roost, but in which the nascent integrationist movement was undoubtedly perceived as a threat.

In what must be an historic letter in Gibraltar's intricate isosceles triangle formed by Britain, Spain and Gibraltar (at the sharpest edge) Michael Pallister was prompt to reply to Mr Cumming-Bruce.
You wrote to me on November 23 about the Prime Minister's request for some further study into the possibility of integrating Gibraltar with the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister tells me that he is still somewhat taken with the possibility of a future integration of Gibraltar with the United Kingdom, not least because he is concerned to outflank the Spanish argument that any form of constitutional change in Gibraltar represents an infringement of the Treaty of Utrecht. But in the light of his brief discussion on the morning of December 4 with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar when the Prime Minister was returning through Gibraltar from his talks in HMS Tiger, he has decided that it would be preferable to let the matter rest for the time being. Sir Joshua Hassan told him that there was no real support in Gibraltar for the integration concept. Both his Party and the other coalition Party had considerable reservations about it.

There was a movement of support amongst the inhabitants of the Rock, but this was confined to a relatively small group of people and their views carried little weight in the Colony as a whole.


Wilson's brave face to apartheid Africa and fascist Spain would have to take a less idealist form. The reality out there was tougher and more complex than he could have expected. In the meantime Gibraltar was the subject, as previously reported, of continued consideration by the military under defence secretary Denis Healey. The coming months would see assessment of the Spanish military might, detailed plans on replacement of civilians by military, contingency plans to ensure continued basic services including the "printing of one newspaper" should Spain withdraw labour suddenly.

There were also detailed papers prepared for the UN appearances. Any embassy in the world could quickly list the two facedness of Spain and its colonies. And so incensed did Britain become at Spain flaunting its military exercises with the US and use of US aircraft that the matter was prepared for discussion at Wilson/Johnson level.

One briefing paper of December 1966 makes a string of points including:
Spain is continuing to pursue her objective, which is the annexation of Gibraltar, in the name of decolonisation. Her attempt to incorporate Gibraltar into Spain without regard to the human factor - the Gibraltarians themselves - is in our view the antithesis of decolonisation.


Then one more refinement - later to become a cornerstone of local politics -raises its head. The establishment -what are popularly known as the mandarins of Whitehall - detect he has gone astray yet again. This time Mr Palliser, Wilson's private secretary, receives another letter from the Commonwealth Office dated January 13 1967 and signed by D Mackilligin.

May I refer to your letter of 12 January dealing with the discussion between the Prime Minister and the Australian High Commissioner on 11 January about, among other things, Rhodesia and Gibraltar? Our Gibraltar people have pointed out that it is not quite accurate to speak of recognition of the need to take account of the wishes of the local inhabitants of Gibraltar. The UN resolution passed in December spoke of taking account of the interests of the inhabitants, which is some way short of considering their wishes. We have hitherto been careful to avoid the "wishes" terminology because that seems to go in the direction of self-determination for the people of Gibraltar which the Spaniards would argue is a breach of the Treaty of Utrecht. We thought it just worth while bringing this rather technical point to your notice, as it is of some importance in the Gibraltar context.

Mr Palliser's letter of the previous day on that meeting had recorded the reference to Gibraltar:

The Prime Minister said that he did not expect any significant progress in our exchanges with Spain and thought that things would go on much as present. We regarded the last United Nation's resolution as acceptable and indeed, as representing something of an advance from our point of view, since it for the first time recognised the need to take account of the wishes of the local inhabitants. He thought we could not expect much change in the basic situation until the death or retirement of General Franco.


Another glimpse into the development of thinking in London comes in an extract from another top secret document which recorded a conversation between the Foreign Secretary George Brown and Lord Caradon at the UK Mission at New York April 20 1966 5pm..

This states:

Lord Caradon referred to the question of presentation of our Gibraltar proposals in the United Nations. We were required by the resolution we had voted for to consult the Spaniards and to decolonise. We must not term our proposed constitutional arrangements with Gibraltar a final act of decolonisation. We could , however, claim that the referendum and the arrangements with Gibraltar constituted self-determination and a step towards decolonisation.

Mr Brown suggested that self-determination through a referendum would mean that a state of colonialism no longer existed. It would be a mockery to suggest that forcing the Gibraltarians to join a Fascist regime like Spain constituted decolonisation. He referred to the difficulty of taking different lines in New York and London where, in view of the opinion in the House of Commons, he would have to be seen to be standing up robustly to the Spaniards.

Lord Caradon said that we could not claim that our arrangements would satisfy resolution 1541 or that they constituted the end of colonial status in United Nations terms. Mr Hope said we would have difficulty in securing United Nations observation of the referendum.

Lord Caradon said that it was nevertheless a good gambit to invite it. Mr Brown reiterated the need to take a strong line on Gibraltar given the state of opinion in the United Kingdom.

Wheels were now turning. Dialogue stopped. Britain headed towards referendum as Spain put the pressure on aircraft and the airport. By May 30 the Foreign Office was informing Madrid that full backing including financial assistance would be available to keep BEA and BUA flying to Gibraltar. Force if necessary would be used to maintain the ability to use the airport. This included detailed plans for the "dumb-bell" procedure for fighters to escort flights to and from the airport under rules of engagement cleared by the Attorney general and agreed by the Cabinet. By this time the date of announcement and holding the referendum had been decided on.


The announcement of the referendum, the informing of Spaniards just a short time before a public statement, was so carefully planned that letters were exchanged between diplomats as to whether, in his meeting with President Johnson, Wilson would simply spring the matter on an unprepared president or allow diplomats to have prepared the path for this in advance. The former, no warning was decided upon. Britain wanted to make the US aware at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (which at one point Wilson sought advice on the implications of pulling out) that the US was being unhelpful. But they did not want to let Johnson know about the referendum and put the Prime Minister in to the position of justifying to President Johnson our decision to announce the referendum without first consulting Spain as the UN General Assembly resolution of last December enjoined us to do.

The road we all took was now clearly embarked upon....Gibraltar's new constitution and frontier closure would come in 1969. Wilson would be predicted winner and lose an election to Ted Heath as Gibraltar entered the 1970's under siege.

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