Gibraltar Chronicle Logo
Local News

As border re-opened, tensions flared over NATO referendum, documents reveal

Improvements in Anglo-Spanish relations following the full re-opening of the frontier in Gibraltar were almost derailed by a referendum in Spain, according to papers released today at The National Archives in London.

The referendum in March 1986 on whether Spain should remain a member of NATO caused anxiety in both Whitehall and Washington and prompted the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to appeal directly to Spanish opposition leader Manuel Fraga Iribarne to shore up support for the ‘remain’ side.

In newly released correspondence, penned just weeks before the referendum 30 years ago, Mrs Thatcher told Sr Fraga: “As you know, my government and party greatly values Spanish membership of the Alliance. I have accordingly been following the debate on this question carefully, and although I recognise that the referendum is a matter purely for the Spanish people, I do want to let you know how concerned I am about the possible consequences of a negative result.”

“Spain has recently identified herself even more closely with Western Europe by joining the European Community. This was a step we all welcomed and I feel it would be a tragedy both for Spain and for the solidarity and security of Western Europe if Spain were now to relinquish her proper place in the NATO family.”

Spain had formally joined NATO in May 1982, but the PSOE victory in the general election that year put the country’s membership on hold. The Socialists had come to power promising an in/out referendum on Spanish membership of the military alliance.

FULL STORY IN OUR PRINT AND E-EDITIONS