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“A Dagger in the Spine of Spain?”

Gareth Stockey is a Lecturer in Modern European History at Swansea University, UK. He completed his doctorate at the University of Lancaster, where he was part of a collaborative, AHRC-funded research project, entitled ‘Community, Society and Identity in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Gibraltar.’

The ‘problem’ of Gibraltar has been a constant source of diplomatic tension between Britain and Spain for over three hundred years. Franco himself described the Rock as a ‘dagger in the spine of Spain’, and it was during his dictatorship that Spain’s diplomatic campaign to recover Gibraltar reached its height with the closing of the frontier in 1969. Given this background, it has long been assumed by historians and commentators that relations between Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbour have also been strained. Gareth Stockey rejects this assumption, and demonstrates that relations across the frontier had in fact been cordial for most of the period of British occupation of the Rock.

The focus of this study is the Gibraltar–Spanish frontier. Rather than seeing the frontier as a physical entity – separating Gibraltar from its Spanish neighbour – the frontier is viewed as a process, through which the communities on either side of it fostered intimate social, cultural, political and economic links. Instead of creating a distinct and definable Gibraltarian ‘identity’ in this period – an identity which has since become a key argument in Gibraltar’s calls for self-determination – the frontier instead served to blur this identity, and infuse the Gibraltarians with an array of Spanish cultural influences. Ironically, given his stated desire to see the Rock returned to Spain, it was Franco’s policy of closing the Gibraltar frontier which hardened attitudes on both sides and made a solution to the Gibraltar ‘problem’ unlikely in the extreme.

This book, the first in any language to provide an in-depth local study of Gibraltar–Spanish relations, constitutes a major critique of accepted wisdom on the so-called Gibraltar ‘problem’. It also sheds light on a tempestuous period of Spanish history, and the early foreign policy of the Franco regime.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-301-0
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $75.00
Release Date: January 2009
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-613-4
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $49.95
Release Date: January 2009
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies
Series Editor’s Preface
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Significance of the Frontier in Gibraltarian History

1 ‘British’ Gibraltar in the Early Twentieth Century

2 Economic Depression and the Effect of the Spanish Dictatorship during the 1920s

3 Shifting Allegiances and Social Tension: Gibraltar during the Peacetime Years of the Spanish Second Republic

4 ‘A House Divided’: The Impact of the Spanish Civil War upon Gibraltarian Society

5 Towards a New Relationship: Local and National Relations between Gibraltar and Spain, July 1936 to August 1939

6 ‘The Franco Problem’: Spanish Policy towards Gibraltar during the Second World War, 1939–1945

7 ‘Business as Usual? Cross-Frontier Relations between Gibraltar and the Campo, 1939–1945

8 The End of the Affair: Cross-Frontier Relations, 1945–1954

Conclusion: ‘A Dagger in the Spine?’


This expertly researched book challenges the assumption that Gibraltarians have always held deep antipathies toward Spain and fiercely hold that their national identity is tied up with being British. Instead, both Gibraltarians and Spaniards at the border understand the physical frontier between them to be little obstacle to a relationship built over the course of the 20th century. Stockey argues that the frontier can best be seen as a ‘process,’ whereby economic forces emerged to encourage or discourage social, cultural, and political interaction between the societies on either side of it. The fence built by the British in 1908–9 may have caused friction between Madrid and London. It was the physical expression of differing areas of sovereignty and different tax regimes (especially during the years of the Franco dictatorship), but it belied the fact that an intimate relationship marked by trade (often in contraband), the use of Spanish, intermarriage, and fluid immigration and labor patterns had been forged without much concern or regard for the posturing of politicians in those capitals. A solid work on borders and borderlands. Highly recommended.

Gareth Stockey covers a subject central to Anglo-Spanish relations during the two dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco and the tumult of the Second Republic and the Civil War. The book’s approachability is enhanced by its highly vivid sense of place and people. It delineates superbly the acute social and economic differences on both sides of the Spanish frontier and does so in a way that clarifies the fluctuations in the close relationship between both communities. Dr Stockey’s work is also informed by a real sensitivity to the social impact of diplomatic issues on the population in both Gibraltar and Andalucía.
From the Preface by Series Editor Paul Preston

The focus of the study is the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar and the fluctuations in the relationship between the communities on both sides between 1900 and 1954. The author’s ‘revisionist’ theses are threefold. First, that the relationship has been determined not only by political events but also by the differing concerns of various class groups within Gibraltar and the neighbouring Campo. Second, that the relationship was an increasingly close and symbiotic one, which was broken neither by the Spanish Civil War nor by the evacuation of most of the population of Gibraltar during the Second World War, but by Franco’s political opportunism following the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Gibraltar in 1954 as part of her Coronation Tour and the subsequent border restrictions; these led not only to the destruction of the economic interdependence across the frontier and other forms of interaction (230), but also to ‘the closure of hearts and minds’ (224). Third, during this period there was an inherent ‘Spanishness’ in civilian Gibraltar, while the development of a distinctive Gibraltarian identity only seriously arose after the 1950s (although he rightly concedes that it began to appear in the immediate aftermath of the War [183]). …
... One issue that arises from the study of the history of a British colony in isolation is that it is difficult to adjudge the extent to which some of the phenomena described are unique to Gibraltar or are in fact paralleled elsewhere and are therefore typical of colonial or cross-border situations. For example, the author makes a strong case regarding the divide between the ‘imported British community’ and the civilian population before the First World War and he refers to the ‘barriers to entry’ being physical as well as social (22). But was this unique to Gibraltar or a reflection of colonial life anywhere in the Empire at that time? Similarly, was the use of the Spanish language by both the moneyed and the working class in Gibraltar typical of any cross-border scenario? Was the general consensus ‘that there should be no return to the pre-war status quo of quasi-dictatorial rule by British officialdom, and a monopolisation of civilian representation in government by the self-interested [...] elites’ (187), echoed elsewhere in the colonies? Some wider contextualization of the Gibraltar experience would have been enlightening.
Bulletin of Spanish Studies

Stockey addresses 300 years of diplomatic tensions between Britain and Spain over the governance of Gibraltar and focuses this study on the economic, political and social issues that have developed along the Spain–Gibraltar frontier. Written for students and scholars of international relations and economics, this book describes how Gibraltarian identities are not isolated from those of Spain, and how cultural distinctions have been blurred between borders due to a history of surprisingly cordial relations. A section is devoted to the Franco regime, and how Spain attempted to break down the frontier through an aggressive foreign policy agenda.
Reference & Research Book News

This book details the generally positive relationship across the border (Campo) between Gibraltar and Spain from the onset of the twentieth century, a harmonious situation that was challenged by the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Franco dictatorship.
... Stockey devotes separate chapters to key changes in Spanish policy, mainly those of Franco, through 1954. Various actions by Franco, such as restricting Spanish workers entering Gibraltar, inconvenienced Gibraltar but did not persuade its residents to abandon ties to the United Kingdom.
... The concluding chapter comments on subsequent efforts, sometimes by international bodies, to address the Gibraltar situation noting the overwhelming vote to reject Spanish control in the 1969 referendum on Gibraltar. Just as with the Falklands, it is unlikely that Great Britain will abandon the Rock, as long as its citizens clearly and emphatically wish to continue to have British rule, if only in a loose sense.
British Politics Group Quarterly

Spain’s relationship with the military fortress of Gibraltar and its surrounding community has been subject to intense debate since the British took the Rock in 1704. With this work Gareth Stockey seeks to revive the subject, with an emphasis on the period from 1900 through 1954. Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Rock in that year led to a series of reactionary policies from the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco that culminated in the closure of the border between Gibraltar and the adjacent Campo de Gibraltar in 1969. This book merges traditional diplomatic history – the framework used by most previous writers on the subject – with insights from ‘borderlands’ studies in order to place Franco’s actions in context. The result is an analysis that squarely blames Franco alone for the current hostility and separateness that exists between Gibraltar and the Campo. While clear that Spain always claimed Gibraltar should be its territory, Stockey nonetheless demonstrates that for the first half of the twentieth century an important and deep relationship between the Campo and Gibraltar flourished, even in times of civil conflict and war.
... Stockey grounds the close relationship between the Campo and Gibraltar in the economic, social, linguistic and family ties that emerged in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, as both regions industrialized. While the Gibraltarian ‘moneyed class’ was separate from this process, the working classes of the region merged through marriage and language usage, making the Gibraltarian workers part of Spanish culture. The continued economic interdependency of the Campo and Gibraltar over the course of most of the century provided the opportunity for such cross-cultural ties to deepen.
... In concluding with an assessment of Francoist propaganda in 1954, during the Queen’s visit, Stockey is at times too brief in outlining the nature of the change
occurring. Nonetheless, his point that Franco’s actions effectively ended a cross-frontier relationship that had developed rather naturally is well made.
... Not only is this book a much needed revision of George Hills’ 1974 Rock of Contention, but it also effectively combines the traditional approach to the subject with the insights of economic, cultural and social ties that are typical of borderlands studies. The result is a book that allows the reader to see the Rock as much more than a military outpost.
David A. Messenger, Journal of Contemporary History

In modern times, Gibraltar played a role in British strategy on a level with Suez and Singapore, more notably in the Second World War. The triumph of Francisco Franco in the civil war produced a much more militant policy, and from the summer of 1939 the Spanish dictator developed plans for a direct military assault on the Rock. Adolf Hitler entered the picture in August 1940, when Winston Churchill’s refusal to surrender motivated Hitler to try to bring Spain into the war, which would enable a special German assault corps to seize Gibraltar and to close the west Mediterranean to British forces. Spain’s economic weakness and Hitler’s inability to meet Franco’s price in French African territory frustrated this design, though a series of sabotage operations against Gibraltar was mounted from Spanish soil between 1940 and 1943. Spanish policy returned to quiescence while the regime endured post-war ostracism (1945–50), but then resumed its militancy, closing the border altogether in 1969. The democratic regime that followed eventually reopened the frontier in 1985.
... The literature on Gibraltar has grown steadily, but Gareth Stockey’s new treatment is not another diplomatic and military account. It is rather a social and political study of Gibraltar’s population and its interaction with neighbouring Spanish society, reflecting recent scholarly interest in borders and boundaries, and the extent to which they do and do not manage to separate adjacent populations.
Stockey finds that, as Gibraltar developed as a naval base and commercial entrepôt during the nineteenth century, its society achieved a high level of symbiosis with the Campo de Gibraltar, the neighbouring Spanish district. Though its population was quite diverse in origin and its official language English, the common language of Gibraltarean society, commerce, culture, and education was Spanish. A social and cultural frontier existed only for the British elite and servicemen, and even that was highly permeable. Thousands of Spanish workers crossed the border daily to work in Gibraltar’s large dockyard and in its businesses and homes, injecting considerable income into the neighbouring district of Andalusia, one of the poorest in all Spain. Moreover, for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, contraband was big business. Gibraltar and its Spanish neighbour became both culturally and economically interdependent and, when civil war came to Spain in 1936, it divided the people of Gibraltar along much the same lines as those of Spain.
... The beginning of greater separation came with the Second World War, when much of the civilian population was evacuated to Britain and elsewhere. This experience produced a somewhat greater degree of ‘Anglicization’, but even that was limited. The place of Spanish language and culture in Gibraltar remained strong after 1945. Stockey finds the line of separation to have begun to develop significantly only with the more aggressive policy that Franco initiated in 1950, followed eventually by the closing of the border. This also roughly coincided with the introduction of broader self-government in Gibraltar, and with the growth of a strong and separate Gibraltarean identity in the second half of the century, as by plebiscite the population massively rejected union with Spain.
The complex interaction between the people of Gibraltar and the society, culture, and politics of Spain is clearly described in this brief account, which draws on diplomatic records, the press, memoirs, and secondary works to present a fair and balanced treatment.
Stanley G. Payne, University of Wisconsin at Madison, The International History Review

Gareth Stockey looks at trans-border relations between Gibraltar and Spain during the first half of the twentieth century, with particular focus on the years spanning the fall of the Second Republic, the Spanish Civil War and Second World War, and the lead up to the 1954 visit to Gibraltar by Elizabeth II. These years are dealt with in great detail, with Stockey analysing the complexity of interactions between both countries and across different sectdors and interest groups on either side of the frontier. The Gibraltar/Spain border is therefore of central consideration, and, indeed, Stockey’s point of departure is the construction, by the British military authorities, of the fence on the neutral ground in 1908, an event which, he suggests, ‘marked for the first time in over a century, the existence of a physical “border” between Gibraltar and the Campo’. A fence had in any case always existed at the Spanish edge of the neutral ground but Stockey places some emphasis on this development given that the relocation of the British fence was only possible through the absorption, by the British authorities, of their section of the neutral ground into ‘mainland’ Gibraltar. The shifting of the boundary not only brought Gibraltar physically closer to Spain, it also redefined her territorial limits. Still, the question of proximity is a central consideration here as Stockey sets out to ‘challenge the importance of a formal frontier as a dividing force between two communities’, going as far as to suggest that these communities were so close by the first half of the twentieth century that it might not be inaccurate to suggest that they functioned as one rather than two separate entities. Such a thesis raises all sorts of questions, especially when considered in light of the powerful geopolitical discourse that followed the closure of the frontier in 1969. The closure not only kept communities apart, but also gave rise to insecurity and the belief, on the part of Gibraltarians, that proximity to Spain, culturally or otherwise, challenged their Britishness, an important factor when it came to keeping the Spanish territorial claim at bay. These complex feelings and some of the historiography that followed tended to transplant the sentiments of 1969 onto the historical past as a means to explain Franco’s decision to close the frontier.
... Then again, these are precisely the readings that Stockey sets out to address; ones which he terms as ‘present-day attitudes’ (although these are increasingly less current), and which have served to define constructs of a Gibraltarian identity and perceptions of her relationship with Spain. The focus on the frontier has been such that the barriers (political, class, economic, institutional or linguistic ones) that existed within Gibraltar and between the Garrison and the civilian population were rarely discussed.
... Stockey extends his challenge of a formal frontier to include discussion on those other barriers within, making this a very detailed study of Gibraltar society of the day. The emphasis Stockey gives to the complex levels of interactions is considerable and significant. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that far from a divider, the border with Spain facilitated an economy and the transfer of cultural norms. We are also dealing with trans-border relationships based on dependencies; that of El Campo on the Gibraltar economy and just as important, that of Gibraltar on El Campo for a workforce. This very fact ensured, as Stockey argues, that every diplomatic effort was made during some very challenging times (see for example the Second World War and the threat posed by Spain’s alliance with the Axis), to maintain fluidity across the frontier.
... We see therefore, that despite diplomatic tensions and the more local ones stemming from, on the whole, the contraband trade, the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain operated with fluidity and ease. A fence or frontier constructed by officials may well have caused friction, but on the ground it did little to alter the relationship between Gibraltar and El Campo. Whether or not such interface led to these communities, or at least certain sectors from each, being more similar than dissimilar, or whether or not they functioned as one larger community rather two separate ones remains a compelling question. Stockey seems to suggest that it was during this first half of the twentieth century that Gibraltarians became progressively more ‘socially, culturally, linguistically and increasingly politically’, closer to El Campo. It would also be useful to look back to at least the nineteenth century to determine if this trend forms part of a natural progression, one which peaked in the twentieth century, or if we are dealing with a pattern of interactions informed by ruptures over a period of time. It is also interesting to note that it was precisely Gibraltar’s status as a separate (from Spain) economic and sovereign jurisdiction that fuelled, if not sustained, the impressive level and range of interactions across both spaces.
European History Quarterly

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