by Keith Azopardi. Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 2009. 456pp. Hardback. £62.00/$124.00. ISBN: 9781841139166.

Reviewed by Lee P. Ruddin, LLB, MRes, PgCert, Roundup Editor, History News Network. Email: leepruddin [at]


Keith Azopardi’s study on Gibraltar’s contested sovereignty is a worthy addition to the sparse literature on Sub-state governance.. Azopardi, a practicing lawyer, writes that “it is impossible in seeking a resolution to the legal dimensions of the Gibraltar dispute to sever this from the political context.” (p.123) Former Deputy Chief Minister Azopardi reaffirms this by stating in the same chapter that the “dispute is not only legal but also intensely political. It is a perfect example […] of the need to consider the linkage between law […] and politics.” (p.108)

“What Happened Then Matters Now,” goes History Today’s masthead, and there is no reason why Spain will give up its 300-year-fight against Britain for Gibraltar; indeed, if recent election results are anything to go by, the former is set to increase pressure on the latter to return the tiny peninsula on its southern coast. Although Anglo-Spanish relations are cordial at present, Socialist Party losses in local and regional elections are certain to rock relations pertaining to the “Rock”. Spain’s move to the right, to be sure, renders Azopardi’s analysis of this European flashpoint all the more timely. I say this since to understand why Spanish police and naval units have violated Gibraltarian territorial waters on some 15 occasions since 2009 has little to do with environmental protection. Likewise, Gibraltar being unable to participate in international sporting bodies has very little to do with UEFA membership rules. It all, rather, has to do you with events dating from 1701.

For all the talk of law and politics, though, it is history which hangs over this particular dispute. As Azopardi recounts, the long-standing tensions between the two major European powers over a territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean coast can be traced back to the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). It was then, at the start of the eighteenth century and after the English government backed a non-French candidate for the Spanish throne, that Gibraltar first fell into British hands. Although the plan to install Archduke Charles of Austria ultimately failed (with Philip, Duke of Anjou, becoming King of Spain) and British and Dutch troops, in turn, were unable to advance to Madrid, allied forces did succeed in occupying Gibraltar. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which escorted the cessation of hostilities, stipulated that Britain would hold the territory gained.

Given that the people of Gibraltar are British but not necessarily English and live near Spain but are not necessarily Spanish, either, a definition of what it means to be “Gibraltarian” is necessary. Thankfully, Azopardi obliges and, according [*385] to him, the unique community is
a product of this mix of cultures and nationalities over the last three centuries. The residue of the inhabitants that remained after the British conquest combined with those elements of the Garrison or British civilians that made Gibraltar their home, the flood of immigrants from Genoa, Malta, North Africa or Portugal and the injection of some residents from adjoining Spanish towns as a result of marriage between the communities. (p.145)
As authoritative as Azopardi’s history undoubtedly is, however, it is not comprehensive. For instance, more ink could, and should, have been spilled on the Franco era and the ultra-nationalist dictator’s campaigning to recover Gibraltar. I say this since, as close as Nazi troops came (in theory if not in practice) to taking the territory out of British hands and placing it back into Spanish one’s was, the arms race in the early 1950s – and America’s need for its own bridgehead at Rota, 60 miles north-west of the Rock – signalled Spain’s reintegration into the western geopolitical framework, “from which,” David Keys reports, “it had excluded itself both before and during the Second World War” (p.18).

With regard to considering the effects of sovereignty and the culture of bilateralism on the dispute, however, Azopardi is nothing if not comprehensive. He assesses the evolution of the resulting deficits of governance and democracy and goes on to propose the application of ideas such as late sovereignty, pluralism and stateless nationalism if an enduring settlement is to be reached. Marrying and then applying theories from across international relations and constitutional as well as public international law, ensures that SOVEREIGNTY AND THE STATELESS NATION is a rich addition to the poor amount of literature which currently covers complex inter-state relations. This is no mean feat, since, as Azopardi illuminates, Gibraltar is
metaphorically caught between three flags: the United Kingdom flag, the Spanish red and gold and the European Union flag. Each symbolises a particular dimension of the Gibraltar conundrum. The Union Jack is the symbol both of Gibraltar’s colonial past and the desire of its people to retain a relationship with the Crown. The Spanish flag is a constant reminder of the persistent claim to Gibraltar’s sovereignty by Spain and the European blue flag is representative of the ever-increasing domestic influence of the Union and the hope that integrationist trends will erode both the obstacles to the achievement of governance improvements and the sharpness and emotion of the sovereignty debate. (pp.2-3)
There are four strands to the sovereignty dispute that are examined in this 400-page work: The substance of the dispute and the three different strands of nationalism; the methodology of the dispute and the conflict between state-centric bilateralism and multi-party trilateralism; the manifestation of the conflict across the domestic, international and European arenas; and the resolution of the dispute. The hardback is divided into seven chapters, followed by a conclusion. Azopardi deserves praise, it must be said, for laying out his work along broad historical lines and pausing at key watersheds in Gibraltar’s constitutional [*386] development; this helps ensure a hard topic is all the more easier to digest.

Chapter one (“From Strategic Gain to Fortress Colony to ‘The Right to Our Land’”: pp.11-60), proffers a historical overview of Gibraltar’s political and constitutional advancement, commencing in 1701 and concluding in 1964, when ministerial government was setup. Chapter two (“Changing Landscapes: Sovereignty, Status and Governance by 1986, and their Convergence onto the European Stage”: pp.61-105) focuses on developments in the period 1964-86. The mid-1980s was a significant period for Gibraltar, since this was when Spain finally entered the European Community. The forty-five pages detailing how the European stage grew in significance as the main theatre for progressive governance fly by. Chapter three (“Sovereignty, States and Stateless Nation”: pp.107-190) introduces the concept of sovereignty, traces the roots of bilateralism between Britain and Spain, and details how London and Madrid obscure the resolution of the dispute.

Chapter four (“‘The Sensitivity of the Underlying Bilateral Issue’: Bilateralism and the Governance Deficit, 1986-2004”: pp.191-220) and Chapter five (“Sub-State Power, Representation and Influence, and the Zenith of Bilateralism”: pp.221-273) also concentrate on bilateralism, only this time during the years 1986-2004, and illuminate how such a process ran in the opposite direction to multi-level governance and plurinationalism more generally. While both analyse the sub-State context of Gibraltar, the latter pages go on to masterfully address its democratic deficit. Chapter five ends in 2004 which, again, is not an insignificant year, since this witnessed the establishment of amore trilateral forum.

Chapter six (“Negotiating a Way through the Mist – Old Concepts, New Meanings”: pp.275-333) surveys the possible avenues to resolving the absurdity of self-governance and constitutionalism. Azopardi reviews developments post-2004 and advises participants in the dispute to recognise the importance of progressive notions such as multi-level governance, stateless nationalism and participatory democracy. This takes the reader nicely into chapter seven (“Making Advances – Power, Influence and Representation within the European Dimension and the Status Dilemma”: pp.335-373), where he examines how securing self-governance would assist in resolving the issue.

Azorpodi is to be particularly commended for oscillating between describing the situation in Gibraltar as it is today and prescribing how it ought to be tomorrow by applying ideas drawn from the “modern legal context” that the book’s subtitle refers to. Such recommendations render this text a beneficial read for anyone involved in sub-State governance more generally and a must-read for those interested in the legal status of Gibraltar more specifically. Both interested parties would do well, however, to remember that ‘the key’, according to Azopardi,
is to recognise its [sovereignty’s] continuing power, and that its power conduit and locus is people and not history, territorial title or State. From that point on, it is easier to make the transition to more plural, interdependent modes of governance, because the people have been recognised as having the [*387] sovereignty to give up, share or delegate power if they so wish or to be respected as retaining that sovereignty-power should they choose not to abandon it. (p.9)
Azopardi has a good turn of phrase, early on, writing that ‘in some ways the attitude and claims of a by-gone era have been carried over into modern times, preserved in an imperial time-warp.’ (p.26). This is soon followed with ‘the gale of decolonisation would sweep away most colonial cobwebs in the decades that followed’ (p.60). Yet, there is little to get excited about, in terms of writing style, in the remaining four-fifths of the title; if anything, the author’s lengthy sentences, curious lack of commas and mid-sentence footnotes turned what was an effortless read into something that was an effort to read. To make matters worse, there are a number of publishing (pp.113, 121, 289 & 390) and grammatical errors (pp. 229, 354, 381).

When all is said and done, though, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE STATELESS NATION: GIBRALTAR AND THE MODERN LEGAL CONTEXT is a forward-thinking, historically-grounded treatise which proposes progressive notions of participatory democracy at the same time as respecting traditional notions of territorial sovereignty. That Azopardi’s idealism is tempered by realism is symptomatic of an individual who has traversed the world of both law and politics and, for this reason, deserves his work to be read by lawyers and politicians alike.

Keys, David. 2010. “Rival Claims on Gibraltar,” BBC History Magazine, pp.16-18.

Trinidad, Jamie. 2011. Book Review “Sovereignty and the Stateless Nation: Gibraltar in the Modern Legal Context,” THE CAMBRIDGE LAW JOURNAL, 70 (1), pp.272-274.

© Copyright 2011 by the author, Lee P. Ruddin.