The Rock: Treaty of Utrecht set terms for cession

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The Independent Online
Spain, which seized Gibraltar from the Moors as part of the 15th century "reconquista", ceded sovereignty over the Rock to the British crown "absolutely and for ever without exception or impediment whatsover" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 at the end of War of Spanish Succession.

The main aim seems to have been to shore up a British garrison to prevent Spain being "infested by Moors". Clause 10 stipulates that the British crown was at liberty to dispose of the Rock as it pleased, but that if it ever did so, "preference ... shall always be given to the crown of Spain before any others."

Madrid takes this to mean that Gibraltar would return to Spain if it were decolonised, and clause 10 forms the basis of Spain's persistent sovereignty claim. In Spain's recent change of tack, however, Madrid for the first time is putting less emphasis on its own claim than on accepting Britain's existing exercise of sovereignty.

For example, the Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, has said: "Spain maintains its claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar. We have ample reason for it and we expect time and common sense to establish a solution." By contrast, Mr Matutes now says: "We have never questioned Britain's sovereignty over the Rock as expressed in the Utrecht Treaty. We hope it will eventually revert to Spain, in agreement with Britain."

The substance is unchanged, but the tone is gentler, designed to woo Britain from its commitment to Gibraltar's wish to stay British. Gibraltar's desire to change its status to that of a crown dependency is essentially an attempt to decolonise the Rock without triggering the Spanish claim.

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