La Linea on Sir Joshua’s mind as border opened in 1985
Authorities in Gibraltar were “rightly sensitive” to La Linea’s need to benefit from an open border, according to a newly-declassified confidential report written by the then Governor three months after the frontier gates fully opened in 1985.
Admiral Sir David Williams, who was Governor between 1982 and 1985, said the implications for La Linea were seen as being of “particular importance” given the town’s history as “the poor relation” of both Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar.
“Sir J Hassan is rightly sensitive to La Linea’s need to benefit from the new situation, and to be seen to be doing so,” Sir David wrote in the report.
“Given the long and close association between Gibraltar and La Linea and continuing political goodwill, it should be possible to avoid leaving La Linea out in the cold.”
Then as now, the issue of practical cross-border cooperation was seen as a crucial element for the economic prosperity of communities on either side of the frontier fence.
In practical terms, La Linea would benefit from employment opportunities that were opening up in Gibraltar, particularly in the building and catering trades, and from services which the town might offer to tourists attracted to the Rock by the open border.
This was a relationship that was beneficial in two directions, the Governor noted in his report, a copy of which was released to the UK’s National Archives this week.
“The future of [Gibraltar’s] tourist industry and its need for skilled and semi-skilled labour, to mention only two factors, will depend on a good working relationship with its closest neighbour,” the Governor wrote.
In analysing cross-border relations, Sir David noted that progress was inevitably faster when left in the hands of technical officials and the private sector, rather than top-level politicians.
That was an observation that was also made on the Spanish side of the border.
On April 18 that year, Sir Joshua had paid a visit to the Campo, the first official trip to Spain by a Gibraltarian Chief Minister since the imposition of frontier restrictions in 1964.
There he met with Rafael Palomino, president of the recently-created Mancomunidad de Municipios del Campo de Gibraltar.
Sr Palomino, the Governor said in his report, emphasised that as far as he was concerned, “…politics and practical co-operation between Spain and Gibraltar need to be kept quite separate.”
But Sir David pointed out that with Madrid officials lurking in the background, such an approach could not be taken for granted.
“It is too early to be sure how strong a link the Spaniards will in practice try to forge between co-operation and negotiations on sovereignty,” he wrote.
“But, given the clear intention of the national authorities in Madrid to monitor, if not to control, the pace and form of co-operation, it would be naive to expect that wider political considerations will not play their part in forming Spanish attitudes towards particular issues.”
The Governor’s four-page report was addressed to the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, and circulated too to the UK’s ambassadors in Madrid and Rabat.
In it, Sir David said it was essential to be realistic as to how fast cross-border co-operation could be developed, especially if this was done at governmental level involving ministries in Madrid.
“The sooner that meetings on such practical matters as tourism and the promotion of private investment can be dealt with locally by the technical officials and private interests directly concerned, the better,” he wrote.