What is the Gibraltar Dispute?


Why have tensions risen over Gibraltar and why is it important? (BBC)

Customize your own map of this disputed territory here.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map.

Gibraltar is a British territory on the Iberian Peninsula. It is not, as many think, an island.
Photograph by David Alan Harvey, National Geographic
Use today’s MapMaker Interactive map to put the dispute over Gibraltar in geographic context.

Discussion Ideas

  • The tiny territory (6.5 kilometers, or 2.5 square miles) of Gibraltar is suddenly dominating world news headlines. Where is Gibraltar?
    • Gibraltar is a British overseas territory sitting near the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula.
    • Gibraltar is a peninsula itself, jutting into the Mediterranean as the eastern point of the Bay of Gibraltar. It is dominated by the gorgeous limestone promontory known as the Rock of Gibraltar. In classical antiquity, the Rock of Gibraltar was the northern of the two “Pillars of Hercules” spanning the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa. The Pillars of Hercules marked the stormy, narrow passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the wild Atlantic Ocean. (Take a look at the strait in this beautiful snapshot from the International Space Station.)



  • Gibraltar sits on the Iberian Peninsula and shares its short border with Spain. Why is it British?
    • British and Dutch forces captured the peninsula from Spain in 1704.


  • Why does the United Kingdom retain such a keen interest in this tiny territory?
    • It’s lucrative. Gibraltar is not a part of a customs union, allowing the territory to set its own taxes and tariffs on goods imported from outside the EU. To attract businesses, Gibraltar has set those taxes low, and for this reason is sometimes accused of being a corporate tax haven. It is also a major hub for online gambling businesses.
    • It’s sunny. The mild Mediterranean climate of the Gibraltar peninsula makes it a very popular place for British vacations and retirement communities.
    • It’s strategic. Gibraltar is only about 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the north coast of Africa. The UK has a military base there, including a port and airstrip. Gibraltar’s location on the Strait also gives it important access to commercial shipping, oil transportation, and military-related transport.


  • What is Spain’s interest in Gibraltar?
    • Spain does not acknowledge British sovereignty in Gibraltar. In addition to the economic and strategic benefits of the territory, Spain also points to the region’s historic ties with Spain.
      • Gibraltar was a part of the Kingdom of Castile, and later Spain, from 1492 until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714. Prior to that, Gibraltar (and most of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula) was part of al-Andalus, or Moorish Spain. (The Moors were Muslim communities originally from North Africa.)
      • Spain contends the War of the Spanish Succession was an internal dispute and British Gibraltarians are colonial “settlers.”
    • Until the 1980s, Spain demanded the United Kingdom cede the peninsula to Spain.
    • During the 1980s and 1990s, Spain sought joint sovereignty over the territory. One proposal would allow Gibraltarians to maintain their British nationality during a 100-year joint sovereignty agreement before a permanent transfer to Spain. (This isn’t an unheard-of proposal. The U.S. began to transfer operations of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1977 (full Panamanian control came in 1999) after administering the canal for nearly 100 years. The United Kingdom transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997, at the end of a 99-year lease.)


  • What do the Gibraltarians want?
    • They want to stay British. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected two major referendums on partial Spanish sovereignty. In the last referendum, in 2002, the 30,000 Gibraltarains voted to maintain sole British sovereignty by more than 98%.
    • But … they also want to be European. Gibraltarians rejected the Brexit vote by more than 95%.


  • Are Britain and Spain going to war?
    • No. Both the UK and Spain have way too much to lose in such a conflict. British Prime Minister Theresa May has dismissed such ideas, saying she supports diplomacy“jaw-jaw”—to war-war.



BBC: Gibraltar Brexit row: What is the dispute about?

Vox: Why Britain just (briefly) threatened to go to war with Spain

Nat Geo: Gibraltar 1-page map

Nat Geo: Where is Gibraltar? MapMaker Interactive

Nat Geo: What is the Brexit? study guide

3 thoughts on “What is the Gibraltar Dispute?

  1. Gibraltar have one of the most lowest taxes if you run the business

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