Gibraltar: Constitutional Reform as a (De)colonising Vehicle

27th Feb 2020
Because of Gibraltar’s status as a British Overseas Territory on the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24) list, constitutional reform has, in the absence of formal decolonization, functioned as an enabling vehicle that equips Gibraltarians with a considerable degree of self-governing. To this end, it has been suggested that Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution, described by Jeff Hoon (then Labour’s Minister for Europe) as a non-colonial document, brings Gibraltar to the verge of independence ‘but not quite’, the reason for this being the reversionary clause in Article X of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which would see Gibraltar handed over to Spain should formal decolonisation take place. Indeed, a move along these lines would be perceived by Gibraltarians as entering into a neo-colonial relationship with Spain, and enabling as constitutional reform is, Gibraltar may never entirely leave the colonial behind.
We see here a dichotomy that, as I suggest in this paper, starts gaining traction during the post-war UN decolonising process, with the 1960s offering us an insight into constitutional reform as a tool aimed at moving Gibraltar towards a form of decolonisation as a non-self-governing territory in free association with a sovereign state – Britain.
Whilst this mission failed, the period from 1963, Gibraltar’s first outing before C-24, up to the publishing of the 1969 Constitution Order are key in determining how drives towards constitutional reform had the dual function of empowering Gibraltarians through their right to self-determination whilst also protecting British sovereignty over Gibraltar. Perhaps the overarching question here lies in understanding how constitutional reform has served to also change Gibraltar’s relationship with Britain and vice versa, moving this further away each time from a colonial format as defined by the UN into unchartered territory which, given the complexity of Gibraltar’s status, opens new enquiry into defining what is meant by the non-colonial.

About the Speaker

Dr Jennifer Ballantine Perera is the Director of the University of Gibraltar’s Institute for Gibraltar and Mediterranean Studies and is based at the Gibraltar Garrison Library. Jennifer holds a PhD in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent and was the Research Associate on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project ‘Gibraltar Community and Identity’ (2003 – 2006).
Jennifer is Director of the Gibraltar Garrison Library. Her main area of research is Gibraltar, with focus on social and colonial history, British Overseas Territories, constitutional reform and expressions of self-determination. She has presented papers at international conferences and publishes on the subject. Jennifer is the founder Director of Calpe Press, a publishing house dedicated to promoting Gibraltar writings. She was editor of the Gibraltar Heritage Journal (2007-2017) and currently sits on the Editorial Board.
Jennifer is a member of the University’s Research and Research Degrees Committee (RRDC) and supervises three PhD candidates. She has recently been appointed President of the Mediterranean Studies Association 2020 conference, which is to be held at the University of Gibraltar on 27 – 30 May 2020.