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In sensitive 1984 document, FCO set out plans for closer cross-border ties

A previously confidential British Government paper on the future of Gibraltar following the re-opening of the frontier with Spain is made public today for the first time.  

The eight-page paper lays out plans “to wean Gibraltar from traditional patterns of thought” and prepare its inhabitants for the “inevitability of change”, and suggests a series of measures to help achieve this aim.

It was produced by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Southern European Department in October 1984 at the prompting of Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, who likened the gradual process of changing attitudes in Gibraltar to that of “peeling an onion”.

The stated objective of the approach would be an evolution from “an emphasis on overt support for Gibraltar’s constitutional position in the first phase, through steps to increase cooperation between Spain and Gibraltar in the second, and leading in the third to encouraging an increased Spanish presence in Gibraltar”.

In recognition of its sensitivity, the paper, entitled ‘Spain/Gibraltar: Measures for Change’, was given an extremely limited circulation with orders to make no reference to it by telegram.

However, then Governor Admiral Sir David Williams warned London against “manipulation” of the Gibraltarians, in his view a “sophisticated people” who could not be treated like Britain’s “African colonies”.

The paper took as its starting point the huge changes about to take place on the Rock as a result of the full re-opening of the border after 16 years of relative isolation. 

The paper states: “At each stage it will be essential for HMG to move carefully to avoid giving grounds for criticism that Britain is pursuing a policy of forcing Gibraltar into a new relationship with Spain.” 

“Whatever is done to create conditions for a closer relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, however well-intentioned, is likely to be seen in some quarters in Gibraltar as part of an FCO conspiracy to dispose of the colony.”

“It will therefore be important for HMG not only to act honestly, but to be seen to be doing so.”

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