The full opening of Gibraltar’s border with Spain in 1985 provided a “desperately needed” boost to an economy that had been “slowly bleeding to death” behind closed frontier gates, a former Governor observed in a confidential valedictory despatch written that year and released to the UK’s National Archives today.
In the nine-page document dated October 25, 1985, Admiral Sir David Williams set out his thoughts on Gibraltar, its politicians and its thorny relationship with Spain.
This was a private document addressed to Sir Geoffrey Howe, the then Foreign Secretary, with very limited circulation beyond the minister’s office. As a result, the tone was candid, honest and free of frills.
But it was optimistic too, despite the difficult path that had led to the full opening of the border in the same year that Spain joined the then European Community.
“If Spain continues to exercise restraint, supports mutual cooperation and illuminates discussion without rancour and with common-sense, the opportunities for Gibraltar are evident and manifold,” he wrote in the despatch.
“Though we must not forget that the legacy of the past 20 years has left its mark on both the people and the economy, there is no doubt that the great majority of Gibraltarians want to make the most of those new opportunities.”
“It will, I submit, be for Her Majesty’s Government and for my successor to encourage them to progress, to make available constructive advice and guidance, to stiffen their resolve when they are tempted not to face up to difficult decisions which they would prefer to avoid, to deal sympathetically with calls for financial aid and to continue to honour both the letter and the spirit of HMG’s commitment to Gibraltar.”
“Gibraltarians deserve all this.”
When he first arrived in Gibraltar in 1982, Sir David said he had found a “wary, worried and watchful” community conditioned by years living in isolation.
Spanish democracy was still “at a tender stage” and there had been three failed attempts to reach agreement with Spain on the border since the Lisbon Agreement of 1980.
Separately, the UK Government had announced plans to close and privatise the Naval Dockyard and the Falklands conflict had placed an urgent focus on defence issues.
“There were many reasons for a feeling of chronic insecurity throughout the fabric of life in the local community,” the Governor wrote in the despatch, which was sent to Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe on the eve of his departure from the Rock.
By 1985, however, Sir David had witnessed “a sea change” in Gibraltar’s fortunes, fuelled in part by “the realism” of the PSOE Government in Madrid and Spain’s entry into the European Community, signs that democracy was taking root and the Franco era was over.
“The open Border has brought with it freedom of movement and a sense of release, relief and hope which has been a major shot in the arm both psychologically and economically,” Sir David wrote.
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