Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 2002

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The Government of Gibraltar called a referendum on 7 November 2002 to establish support for a proposal to share sovereignty of the territory between Spain and the United Kingdom. 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 Britain 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, provided that Gibraltar consented.

The Government of Gibraltar then decided to hold its own referendum on the prospect of shared sovereignty with Spain, which it strongly opposed. Jack Straw described that decision as "eccentric".[1]

The question[edit]

The Gibraltar referendum asked the people 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?[2]

Voting and the result[edit]

Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 2002
Choice Votes  %
Referendum failed No 17,900 98.48
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: The New York Times – Gibraltar Rejects Power-Sharing Between Britain and Spain

Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said of the result 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[edit]

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 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]

Final effects[edit]

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