2002 Gibraltar sovereignty referendum

The Gibraltar sovereignty referendum of 2002 was a referendum which was called by the Government of Gibraltar and was held on 7 November 2002 within the British overseas territory on a proposal by the UK Government to share sovereignty of the territory between Spain and the United Kingdom. The result was a rejection of the proposal by a landslide majority, with only just over one per cent of the electorate in favour.

Gibraltar sovereignty referendum
On 12 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?
LocationGibraltar Gibraltar
Date7 November 2002
Votes %
Yes 187 1.03%
No 17,900 98.97%
Valid votes 18,087 99.51%
Invalid or blank votes 89 0.49%
Total votes 18,176 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 20,678 87.9%
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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.[1]

In July 2001, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw began discussing the future of Gibraltar with Spain,[2] and a year later, in July 2002, following secret talks with Spain[3] announced that "the UK was willing to share sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain" and that "the final decision would rest with the people of Gibraltar in a referendum."[4]

HM Government of Gibraltar then decided to hold its own referendum on 7 November 2002 regarding the proposal of shared sovereignty with Spain, which it strongly opposed. This pre-empted any referendum planned to be held after the negotiations between Britain and Spain had concluded. Jack Straw described the Gibraltar referendum as "eccentric", and Britain's Foreign Office announced it would not recognise its results.[5]

Although Straw had felt confident enough to announce that there had been talks on joint sovereignty, a number of issues still remained to be resolved. Firstly, Spain was insisting on a time element for a full transfer of sovereignty to Spain. Secondly, Spain would not agree to give Gibraltar a referendum on either joint sovereignty or self-determination. Finally, Spain wanted a greater role than simply joint use of Gibraltar as a military base.[6] Researcher Peter Gold argued in a 2009 paper that these disagreements made the possibility of an agreement being finalised remote.[7]

Referendum questionEdit

The Gibraltar Referendum 2002 asked the voters of Gibraltar their opinion in the following words:

On 12 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?[8]

permitting a simple YES / NO answer (to be marked with a single (X)).


Speech by Peter Caruana, QC, after the announcement of the result of the 2002 Referendum
Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 2002
Choice Votes %
  No 17,900 98.97
Yes 187 1.03
Valid votes 18,087 99.51
Invalid or blank votes 89 0.49
Total votes 18,176 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 20,678 87.9
Source: Washington Post, "Gibraltar Votes to Remain British"[9]

Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said of the result: "We say to the British Government: Take stock of this referendum result, it's the will of the people of Gibraltar", and that the planned path to joint sovereignty was a "dead end road for everyone".[2]


The Government of Gibraltar invited a panel of observers headed by Gerald Kaufman MP. Their report stated 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".[10]


Reaction in Spain was mostly negative, with El País calling the referendum a "dishonest consultation",[11] while Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ana Palacio described it as "illegal" and "against all the UN resolutions".[12] However, El País also said that "no Spanish Government, neither this one or its predecessors, has done enough to make joint sovereignty or integration with Spain an attractive prospect".[11]

In London, Jack Straw was criticised by the Commons foreign affairs committee, whose report stated that he was wrong to agree to joint sovereignty with Spain, when this was unacceptable to the people of Gibraltar. The report also emphasised the importance of the referendum, which represented the views of Gibraltarians. The Telegraph said "the people of Gibraltar today overwhelmingly rejected the principle of Britain sharing sovereignty of the Rock with Spain".[2]


Prior to the referendum the British Government repeatedly stated that it would not recognise the outcome.[13] After the referendum Gibraltar's Government increasingly felt it could demand a say in its future in any talks with Spain.[14] Under an initiative originally started in 1999, the Government of Gibraltar together with opposition parties negotiated a new constitution for Gibraltar. The major sticking point in negotiations was the desire by Gibraltar politicians for a preamble whereby the "British Government ought to commit itself to the question of self-determination in unequivocal terms."[15] The British Government initially sought to avoid doing so but when there was a cabinet reshuffle and a new foreign secretary, the new incumbent was more willing to listen to the views of Gibraltar officials. There was a shift in the British Government policy on Gibraltar that effectively recognised the preamble to the 1969 constitution was sacrosanct, that any discussions on sovereignty would involve Gibraltar and future discussions on sovereignty with Spain would require an improved relationship between Spain and Gibraltar.[16] The British Government compromised recognising its commitment in the 1969 constitution that it would not negotiate with Spain without the consent of people of Gibraltar. The compromise lead to the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006 in which the powers of the Governor were reduced and transferred to local officials and a bill of "fundamental rights and freedoms" enshrined in the constitution.[17] Although this had cross-party support in Gibraltar, when submitted to a referendum on adoption a significant no vote emerged. Although reasons were diverse, there were two aspects to objections;[15] firstly the commitment to retaining British sovereignty was seen to not be sufficiently secure,[15] secondly the new constitution was deemed not advanced enough in allowing the exercise of the right to self-determination.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Spanish statement on Gibraltar". MAE. 17 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Andrew Sparrow and Isambard Wilkinson (8 November 2002). "Gibraltar rejects Straw's deal". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  3. ^ Wright, Oliver (24 January 2012). "UK came close to sharing Gibraltar with Spain". The Independent. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  4. ^ "House of Commons". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Hansard. 12 July 2002.
  5. ^ "Rock referendum 'eccentric' – Straw". BBC News. 26 July 2002.
  6. ^ "How Gibraltar 2002 referendum foundered plan for joint-sovereignty with Spain". Mercopess. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  7. ^ *Gold, Peter (March 2009). "The Tripartite Forum of Dialogue: Is this the Solution to the 'Problem' of Gibraltar?" (PDF). Mediterranean Politics. Taylor and Francis. 14 (1): 79–97. doi:10.1080/13629390902747475.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ Stockey, Gareth; Grocott, Chris (2012). Gibraltar: A Modern History. U of Wales P. p. 116. ISBN 9780708325155.
  9. ^ Daly, Emma (8 November 2002). "Gibraltar Votes to Remain British". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Gibraltar Referendum Observer's Report" (PDF). Report by the Committee of Observers. November 2002. p. 12. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Gibraltar referendum result in quotes". BBC News. 8 November 2002.
  12. ^ "El Gobierno dice que la consulta es contraria a las resoluciones de la ONU". El País (in Spanish). 9 November 2002.
  13. ^ Peter Gold (January 2005). Gibraltar: British Or Spanish?. Psychology Press. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-415-34795-2.
  14. ^ *Dodds, Klaus (December 2004). "Solid as a Rock? Britain and Gibraltar". BBC History: 18–21.
  15. ^ a b c Miller, Vaughne (ed.), "Gibraltar: diplomatic and constitutional developments" (PDF), HOUSE OF COMMONS LIBRARY, retrieved 16 February 2011
  16. ^ Gold, 2005, p.317
  17. ^ a b Stephen Constantine (2009). Community and identity: the making of modern Gibraltar since 1704. Manchester University Press. p. 404. ISBN 9780719080548.