Gibraltar, the stone with which Isabel II stumbled in her relations with Spain

Gibraltar is also in mourning after learning of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The rock has remained a British colony since in 1704, in the context of the War of Spanish Succession, an Anglo-Dutch squadron occupied that small piece of land located at the end of the Bay of Algeciras.

Hostilities ended with the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 for which the rock was ceded by the King of Spain Felipe V to the English crown in perpetuity in exchange for his recognition as monarch. That was the moment in which Spain officially lost Gibraltar and more than 300 years later it still has not recovered it, despite numerous attempts.

Since then, this territory of just seven square kilometers has been a source of diplomatic tension between Spain and the United Kingdom. A dispute that also did not diminish during the very long reign of Elizabeth II and that, precisely, was the stone on which relations between the two royal families, the British and the Spanish, constantly stumbled.

This Thursday, the only colony that the United Kingdom preserves on European soil, mourned its recently deceased queen. In the words of the chief minister, Fabián Picardo, Elizabeth II “has reigned with wisdom and incomparable dedication.” To show her respect, the rock lowered the flags from the official buildings. She has also canceled the events with which she was going to commemorate, on the 10th, her National Day.

The flags will remain at half-staff until the day of the state funeral for the queen and will be hoisted only temporarily for the proclamation of the new sovereign, King Carlos III. Gibraltar, which was officially recognized as a British city less than a month ago, will also pay tribute to the Queen with a 96-gun salute by the Royal Regiment of Gibraltar.

Isabel II always tried to foster relations with the Spanish royal family, with which she was linked by distant family ties

Isabel II always tried to foster relations with the Spanish royal family, with whom she was linked by distant family ties. The links of the Windsors with the Spanish monarchy come from Queen Victoria, known as the grandmother of Europe, due to the vast genealogy to which she gave rise and who was the sovereign with the longest time on the throne (1837-1901) until the surpassed precisely Elizabeth of England.

She, the Duke of Edinburgh, Don Juan Carlos and Doña Sofía are great-great-grandchildren by different branches of Queen Victoria, grandmother in turn of Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, who became queen after her marriage to Alfonso XIII, in addition to being years later the godmother of Felipe de Borbón.

Despite these ties, the shadow of Gibraltar has always hovered under all those royal heads. Moreover, the story of Elizabeth II’s disagreements with Spain began just two years after taking the British throne. The year was 1954 and Elizabeth II made a tour around the world to visit the states belonging to the Commonwealth. The then new queen wanted to take a bath of crowds in the territories under her rule. Among them she also marked Gibraltar on her royal agenda.

Visit of Isabel II in the midst of Franco’s dictatorship

The queen was in Gibraltar for about 36 hours on May 10, 1954. Spain was still mired in the worst years of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who decided to close the colony’s consulate so that the consul would not pay homage to the queen. With this movement, the dictator avoided a major conflict with the United Kingdom but made his position clear before the visit. The consulate has not been reopened since then. As a result of the closure, the Spanish had many difficulties to enter the Rock, until in 1969 the borders were closed.

Before the controversial visit, the then Spanish ambassador in London, Miguel Primo de Riverasent a letter to Anthony Eden, secretary of the Foreign Office, showing Spain’s disagreement with the inclusion of Gibraltar in the royal tour.

Kings Juan Carlos and Sofia declined the invitation to attend the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana of Wales in 1981

The next episode of high tension between Isabel II and Spain at the expense of the rock was when the kings Juan Carlos and Sofía declined the invitation to attend the wedding of Prince Carlos and Diana of Wales in 1981 due to the decision of the British royal family to start in Gibraltar their honeymoon. Although from Windsor the visit was justified in the enclave of a private trip, the gesture did not sit well with the Bourbons.

The Spanish was the only European royal house not to attend the link, at the most complicated moment in the relationship between the Bourbons and the Windsors. They were moments of great distancing both at the monarchical level and at the governmental level.

Prince Charles and Diana of Wales on August 1, 1981 on board the Britannia on their visit to Gibraltar for their honeymoon. AFP

An attempt was made to close the open wound in 1986, when Isabel II invited Don Juan Carlos and Doña Sofía to lead the first State visit by a Spanish monarch in more than 80 years, after the one carried out by Alfonso XIII in 1905 when he met Victoria Eugenie.

The visit had taken place two years before, when Elizabeth II invited Don Juan de Borbón to lunch in Londonwhich marked the beginning of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

As a gesture to give importance to the trip and in recognition of his role in the transition to Spanish democracy, Juan Carlos I was the first foreign monarch invited to address the United Kingdom Parliament. In addition, the queen awarded him the Order of the Garter, the highest distinction awarded by the British Crown, which was also awarded in 2017 to Felipe VI, for which Juan Carlos I returned in 1989 to the solemn act at Windsor Castle.

The next milestone in relations was the visit of Elizabeth II to Spain with her husband Felipe de Edinburgh.

The next milestone in relations was the visit of Elizabeth II to Spain with her husband Philip of Edinburgh. It was in October 1988 and it was the first and last time that she would set foot on Spanish soil. It was also the first top-level visit by a British head of state. The kings Juan Carlos I and Sofía turned to entertain their British counterpart during the five days that the visit lasted, distributed between Madrid, with a visit to El Escorial to see the tomb of Felipe II, Seville and Barcelona, ​​to which the sovereign and her husband added a two-day private stay in Mallorca aboard the royal yacht Britannia.

We had to wait until 2017 for the current kings Felipe VI and Letizia paid a visit to the United Kingdom. “This state visit is an expression of the deep respect and friendship that describes the relationship between Spain and the United Kingdom,” Elizabeth II said on July 12, 2017 upon receiving them at Buckingham Palace.

The last time that Felipe and Letizia were with the queen was last March, when they attended the tribute ceremony for the Duke of Edinburghthe late husband of Elizabeth II who died in April 2021 and who, due to the restrictions of the pandemic, had a very restricted funeral.

Prince Edward last to visit the Rock

But the British royal family has never left Gibraltar aside, knowing the discomfort it has always caused in Spain. The last episode of disagreement took place this past June on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. Prince Edward, one of the monarch’s sons, paid a visit to the Rock with his wife Sofia. The trip of the Dukes of Wessex took place despite the complaint that was transmitted from the Spanish authorities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs transferred its “discomfort” to the Foreign Office.

The last episode of disagreement took place this past June on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee

“Spain considers that the visit is not opportune, within the framework of the negotiation process for a future EU-United Kingdom Agreement on Gibraltar and the bilateral agreements between Spain and the Kingdom that are necessary for the application of said agreement, which will define new relations between Gibraltar and the EU,” said a spokesman for the department headed by José Manuel Albares.

At this time, with Queen Elizabeth II already deceased, the fit of Gibraltar in relations between Spain and the United Kingdom is indecipherable. Many new factors enter the scene. To begin with, the beginning of the reign of Carlos III, which overlaps with the first steps of Liz Truss as British Prime Minister. However, the turning point with Gibraltar in recent years has been the approval of Brexit. Today, the governments of both countries continue to negotiate an agreement on the Rock after the new situation of the United Kingdom outside the European Union.

Just yesterday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, stated that the negotiations of the agreement on Gibraltar after the brexit “progress well” and that he hopes to meet “as soon as possible” with his British counterpart, James Cleverly, to reach an agreement that “is mutually beneficial”, because “we cannot live with our backs to each other”. There are many steps that will have to be taken on both sides to reach an agreement that satisfies equally. But that will no longer be seen by the eyes of Elizabeth II.


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